DAERA has said it will start issuing responses to the planning authorities on 100 outstanding planning applications, delayed due to nitrate emission issues, tomorrow (Friday). The process is expected to be completed by next month.
Applicants will either know if their application has been recommended for approval or refusal, or if further information is required before a decision can be reached.
Making the announcement today the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) revealed further progress in its work to help farmers better protect the environment from the impact of ammonia. The move is in response to the “Making Ammonia Visible” report produced by the Expert Working Group on Sustainable Agricultural Land Management for Northern Ireland, which made a series of recommendations on the issue.
David Small, DAERA’s Director of Environment, Marine and Fisheries Group said the challenge facing both farmers and the Department on ammonia highlighted the importance of a balanced approach which supports a thriving and prosperous agri-food industry whilst protecting our environment.
“Ammonia pollution, and the associated nitrogen deposition, is damaging our environment and our most sensitive wildlife habitats. In Northern Ireland, agriculture is responsible for 93% of the ammonia emissions, mainly from slurry and fertiliser management and application. To prevent further damage and to meet national and international statutory obligations, we must start working to reduce our levels of ammonia,” Mr Small explained.
“Our farmers are the custodians of the land and, as such, we want to work in partnership with them to deliver a win-win for farmers and the environment with improved biodiversity, air and water quality and profitable farm businesses.
“Working together to tackle pollution is nothing new. There is a history of the Department and farmers working in collaboration to address key environmental challenges. Farmers have made good progress on water quality through the Nitrates Action Programme, and also on the carbon intensity of food production. We recognise this good work and hope to build on that progress when it comes to reducing ammonia levels and nitrogen deposition.
“The document we have published today is an initial position on the Expert Working Group’s recommendations. We are fully aware the Group and the wider stakeholder community have emphasised the need for a plan on ammonia to be developed in partnership. We have taken this on board and want to work as closely as possible with stakeholders to develop a way forward on this vital challenge for the local agri-food and environment sectors,” Mr Small added.
Work is already under way. DAERA has established an Ammonia Project Board which met with stakeholders earlier this year to discuss the challenge of ammonia. Further stakeholder forums for agriculture and environment organisations are planned throughout 2018 at which evidence will be gathered to inform the eventual Action Plan on Ammonia. The next stakeholder forum will take place in June.
DAERA has made early progress on addressing a key theme of “Making Ammonia Visible”; strengthening the scientific evidence base around ammonia emissions. DAERA has commissioned a scientific research programme, led by AFBI, on ammonia which will provide the Department with further critical information on how best to address ammonia emissions, including through 20-30 new air quality monitoring sites. As part of the Action Plan, the Department has also commenced work on a review of its operational planning and permitting policy.
“As a Department we have a role to ensure business activity does not cause unacceptable environmental damage. We do this in two ways - as a statutory consultee within the planning process and as a regulator through the permitting and licensing role for certain activities. In undertaking both these we have to ensure appropriate consideration is given to the potential impact of ammonia on our protected environmental sites,” Mr Small continued.
“DAERA fully appreciates the frustration caused by the delay in making its statutory consultee response to approximately 100 planning applications (17 of which relate to the Farm Business Investment Capital Scheme). In considering the applications, the Department is obliged to take account of evolving case law, existing environmental conditions and the nature of planning consultations received.
“DAERA is now in a position to start issuing responses to the planning authorities on these applications. This process, which will start tomorrow and we hope will be completed next month. Applicants will either know if their application has been recommended for approval or refusal, or if further information is required before a decision can be reached.
“These are complex issues that require detailed analysis. The Department will be redeploying resources to ensure the backlog is dealt with as quickly as possible.
“The task ahead is for us to work closely with the agri-food and environment sectors over the coming weeks and months to develop our detailed Action Plan on ammonia, ahead of a consultation on the draft Action Plan during 2018. Our new approach must help realise our vision for a better, healthier environment alongside a thriving and sustainable agri-food sector,” Mr Small concluded.