The Ulster Farmers’ Union says farmers are outraged as the planning rules for assessing ammonia for farm applications have changed, again, without warning. UFU president, Ivor Ferguson, said the decision by Shared Environmental Services (SES), which was made without consultation with industry, will have vast and far-reaching consequences and ultimately impact on all farmers regardless of sector and size.
“The goalposts have been moved again. How are farmers meant to plan and develop their businesses when the rules are changed without warning? It is completely unacceptable that these changes, which have significant implications for farm businesses, have been foisted upon us. Never mind that it has been done without any proper engagement or consultation.
“The new rules put us at a competitive disadvantage. Our closest neighbour and biggest competitor in the GB market, the Republic of Ireland, does not have the same ammonia regulations. They are free to expand, while we can’t. Ultimately, this means agri-businesses, rural economy and communities will all be impacted unless we find a balanced way forward that allows businesses to develop and deliver ammonia reductions,” said Ferguson.
The new policy for assessing planning applications is much stricter than the previous one and Mr Ferguson says the new rules make it virtually impossible for farm businesses to comply.
“If the farm business is sited within 7.5 km of certain designated sites, their application will more than likely be denied. The roll-out of this means that the vast majority of farmers across NI will be unable to develop their business if the new rules remain in place,” he said.
The new policy has implications for those with applications already in the system or about to apply, the majority of which have incurred significant expenditure preparing their applications.
Ferguson said: “For farmers who have already applied to planning or have been preparing applications to meet the previous policy, it is totally unacceptable that the bar has now been raised without warning. This makes it extremely difficult for them to comply with the new position. Farmers who are in the system or have made financial commitments to get ready for planning must be assessed against the criteria that was previously in place. In most cases, they have spent thousands of pounds, in fact some have spent tens of thousands, preparing a planning application only for the rug to be pulled out from under them.
“Farmers need to develop their business to meet new standards, improve health and safety and increase efficiencies allowing them to compete in the marketplace. By preventing on farm development, this is stifling these improvements. Causing a huge amount of stress and strain for many NI family farms who are worried about their future.”
The UFU says local councils across Northern Ireland, who collectively employ SES to carry out planning assessments, need to step up.
“I would advise all councils to take these concerns seriously. The impact of these policy changes will be devastating to our rural economy,” said Ferguson.