OEP launches investigation into DAERA’s advice on ammonia emissions following complaints submitted by a member of the public

The Office for Environmental Protection has announced that it is to carry out an investigation into the advice given by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs on ammonia emissions in Northern Ireland. 
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The investigation, which follows complaints submitted by a member of the public in Northern Ireland, will seek to determine whether DAERA has failed to comply with environmental law in its ammonia guidance, commonly known as the ‘Operational Protocol’, given to local planning authorities and applicants seeking planning permission for certain livestock developments.

The planning authorities are responsible for carrying out assessments under the Habitats Regulations to ensure planning decisions take into account the environmental impacts of ammonia-emitting developments. These assessments are important for ensuring that environmental considerations are properly addressed in planning decision-making.

The OEP is a new independent body that protects and improves the environment by holding government and other public authorities to account. Its powers and duties were extended to cover Northern Ireland in February last year. This is the organisation’s first investigation in Northern Ireland.

OEP CEO Natalie Prosser.OEP CEO Natalie Prosser.
OEP CEO Natalie Prosser.

Natalie Prosser, OEP Chief Executive Officer, said: “Unsatisfactory ammonia pollution is an important, longstanding, systemic issue and one of the most pressing environmental concerns at this time in Northern Ireland.  From an already unsustainable level the 19 per cent increase in ammonia emissions from agriculture between 2009 and 20191 is a stark illustration of this.

“This is a complex area and there is already a great deal of work underway to try and tackle the problem of ammonia emissions. Our investigation will contribute to that work by providing clarity on environmental impacts when planning decisions are being made. 

“We do not know at this point what our findings will be. It is possible that it could result in enforcement activity or in broader actions to address any issues found. Our priority throughout will be to protect and improve the environment.” 

If an investigation finds a failure to comply with environmental law, the OEP will aim to resolve any non-compliance through co-operation, dialogue and agreement with public departments and authorities.

However, where a satisfactory outcome cannot be reached through these means, the OEP can use its stricter enforcement powers including, if necessary, through court proceedings.