This week a DUP delegation organised by Michelle McIlveen MLA alongside party colleagues William Irwin, Mervyn Storey and Keith Buchanan, met with officials from the NIEA, including Chief Executive David Small.
This was part of ongoing discussions around the important issues of ammonia levels in Northern Ireland, planning, future policy and ensuring the viability of the farming businesses, the agri-food sector and ultimately the Northern Ireland economy.
Commenting after the meeting, Michelle McIlveen MLA said that while they welcome the engagement with DAERA officials they are frustrated with the delays within the planning system which are awaiting NIEA responses.
She added: “Northern Ireland has in the region of 100 applications in the planning system currently awaiting environment assessments by the NIEA. The lack of decision-making has effectively put a brakes on the agri-food industry at a time when farm gate prices and returns have been relatively positive.
“With Brexit on the horizon farmers want to take advantage of an opportunity to expand to meet demand in some sectors however that has been frustrated by this process. The DUP questions how in a vacuum of all the scientific evidence which could be available how decisions can be taken on these planning applications in the best interest of the environment and farmers. In the meeting I raised concerns about how NIEA has changed the way in which it assesses planning applications.”
Ms McIlveen said the decisions taken in the next number of weeks will prove a critical juncture for individual farmers and their livelihoods.
She added: “If a pragmatic and balanced approach is not taken in these cases farmers will be refused the opportunity to become more efficient while helping the environment by lowering their ammonia emissions. If the NIEA fails to do this the industry can only come to the decision that Northern Ireland is closed for business and that investment in efficiency and expansion is not welcome.
“Going forward farming and the environment must work hand in hand to tackle these issues. Farmers need clarity and certainty for the future viability of this industry. During the formation of this new ammonia action plan farmers must be fully engaged to ensure a workable and pragmatic solution is found. Time is of the essence as confidence within the industry is extremely low,” she concluded.