Delays in planning decisions criticised

Ulster Farmers' Union president Ivor Ferguson. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Ulster Farmers' Union president Ivor Ferguson. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

The Ulster Farmers’ Union says it is time for DAERA to make the right decisions on planning applications to allow farm businesses frustrated by the planning process to move on.

UFU president, Ivor Ferguson said farmers across Northern Ireland had spent thousands on planning only for DAERA to stall the procedure because they can’t make up their mind on a planning policy that will support the reduction of ammonia emissions.

He continued: “Meanwhile farming businesses are left at a standstill. Farmers are well aware of the ammonia challenge and are doing their bit to address it, but the current uncertainty is unhelpful and unfair. Many farmers have submitted plans to upgrade their buildings and ultimately reduce ammonia emissions. Those that meet the current planning criteria must be given permission and be allowed to proceed. DAERA has left them hanging on for far too long and it must end now.”

According to the UFU, regardless of size or scale, farms across all sectors are being impacted. The UFU says many farmers have been left in a state of limbo for years as they wait for the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency (NIEA) and Shared Environmental Services (SES), to decide on how to progress with planning applications mainly due to the impact of ammonia emissions.

“NIEA and SES continue to shift the parameters in terms of the criteria that farmers must fulfil to get planning permission, and this is adding unnecessary stress. Those who wish to invest in their farm business and upgrade facilities applied to a policy in good faith and for some, years have gone by and they are still no further forward. Our farmers are angry and frustrated, and rightly so. They do not know what to do next or who to turn too,” said Mr Ferguson.

“Investing in farm businesses can increase productivity, reduce emissions and provide new employment opportunities. By stalling planning permission unnecessarily, DAERA is preventing rural communities benefiting from farming investments that would enable the sector to continue to flourish,” said the UFU president.

Meanwhile, Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman William Irwin MLA has criticised the Northern Ireland Environment Agency over their long response times to local Council Planning applications.

When an application for planning permission is submitted to a local Council, NIEA are one of a series of public agencies who are consulted for expert opinion on any impacts or regulations that should be complied with as part of the planning service deliberation.

Mr Irwin said in cases he has been researching he is aware of response time running 3 ½ months over the NIEA’s own response time targets, something he described as “unacceptable”.

He stated: “This is really not good enough and deserves greater attention in terms of the reasons why in cases I have been dealing with, response times have been so lengthy. The delays are costly, especially in cases whereby farmers are trying to expand their businesses and increase productivity as it means that farm business growth is being held back.

“In one recent query I found that after the response deadline being overran for three months, NIEA then suddenly asked for further information from the applicant, despite already having the application for months. This is frustrating for the applicant and also I would add for local Council planning departments who have applications sitting on their desk that can’t be finalised due to these delays.”

“I would urge NIEA to address these matters and if this is a resourcing issue they should put in place a plan of action to lessen the impact such lengthy delays are having on those farmers who are keen to get projects moving,” he concluded.