Tyrone countryside. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) says DAERA’s announcement that NIEA will no longer rely on published Ammonia Standing Advice has been made without ministerial approval or consultation, with the potential to once again, stall much needed on-farm advances.
UFU president David Brown said, “After various pauses to on-farm planning applications, DAERA has now issued a change in policy on the mouth of Christmas, in what appears to be an attempt to slip it in under the radar. It’s infuriating, especially when this sudden decision has been taken without any consultation or warning. How are farmers supposed to invest or make plans to sustainably develop their farm business when they have no idea if and when things could change again? This is the third change in the last seven months in addition to a ‘call for evidence’ on a revised policy. It makes DAERA and NIEA look totally incompetent on this issue.
“Since 2019 we have been calling for clarity around ammonia and planning and are still no further forward. It is an absolute joke at this point and clearly shows the need for the NI Executive to return and make decisions for the NI Assembly, holding DAERA and NIEA to account.”
The decision to move away from the Ammonia Standing Advice is due to a legal challenge by the Office of Environmental Protection. NIEA will now provide planning authorities with case and site-specific advice, on a case-by-case basis. This will be implemented with immediate effect until a new ammonia strategy and updated standing advice have been agreed and are in place.
“It needs to be recognised that farm development is extremely expensive and is a huge financial commitment. From planning fees and the various reports that are needed to satisfy NIEA to the actual building itself is very costly. For many farm families in Northern Ireland, the cost of planning is simply unaffordable and now this sudden policy change has the potential to create more hinderance for farmers by pausing much needed advances on-farm again, stopping some that are currently in the system or putting farmers off the idea completely. Our members are frustrated and angry about the constantly moving goalposts.
“In this latest planning development, NIEA does not seem to recognise that to help improve farms’ environmental footprint regarding GHG emissions, ammonia or water quality issues, investment in farm infrastructure and replacing older facilities is vital. Yet, planning permission continues to be a major stumbling block for farmers, preventing them from doing more to improve the environment. We are in dire need of planning policy that supports our farmers and their ambitions to become more sustainable, helping us to achieve extremely challenging climate change targets and address other environmental issues.
“The UFU is now considering its next steps on DAERA’s decision to drop the Ammonia Standing Advice and will first discuss the matter internally with its committees,” said Mr Brown.