DUP Assemblyman William Irwin MLA has said there are important changes required to local planning policy in order to better facilitate the growth of agriculture moving forward.
Mr Irwin was speaking after submitting his views to Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s Planning Department.
Mr Irwin said there was room for improvement in planning policy that he claimed would “better facilitate” new entrants to farming and farming expansion.
He said: “In my work as a public representative I undertake a lot of representation for farming families helping with their journey through the planning system with local councils. With a firm focus on farming and the various scenarios this has highlighted, I do feel there are important changes which need to be made to help farming expand and prosper in the future.
“I have been involved in lobbying on many applications whereby it has been a real struggle to have planning officers agree to positioning a farm dwelling where it is still considered ‘on the farm’ but not so close to buildings that it is unworkable as a living space. There needs to be a suitable distance between a house and a farm yard for all sorts of sensible reasons such as health and safety, smell and noise. This could be better recognised in any revised policy.”
Mr Irwin explained he had encountered issues for those building on farms to secure finance through a mortgage as the lenders can be less willing to fund in this instance for various reasons regarding the siting of the house.
He added: “I do feel that the policy should be flexible to recognise that a better site may be available on a farm that would be more feasible on all fronts.
“For new start young farmers or indeed a new start farmer of any age, who may have purchased land which has no existing sheds or tanks etc located on the land, they are struggling to get an application approved for a shed in order to be able to house animals. This then leads to additional difficulties in eventually establishing the farm and it raises serious issues with regards to animal welfare particularly in the winter months when housing animals is essential.
He concluded: “There needs to be an adjustment to the policy to better reflect this reality and make it more straightforward for new entrants to farming to establish a farm business on inherited or purchased land. All these points need to be actively considered by local council planning departments and acted on for the future protection and continued growth of agriculture in Northern Ireland.”