Northern Irish farmers angry and frustrated at planning delays

More than 100 farm building projects in Northern Ireland are in limbo as government agencies continue to delay a decision on planning policy and ammonia emission control.

The delay is rooted in the collapse of the NI Assembly in January 2017.

See also: NI pushes farmers to slash ammonia emissions

At the time, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) was reviewing legislation on how to curb ammonia emissions through the planning policy framework.

However, no decision on a way forward was reached before the assembly collapsed and the policy was caught, hanging in limbo.

It means the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency (NIEA) and Shared Environmental Services (SES) have no legal structure to base a decision on when a planning application is lodged.

An Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) spokeswoman said well over 100 farmers were stuck, waiting for a decision on building upgrades that were designed to cut emissions.

Some have been caught in the so-called ammonia deadlock for many years, costing them thousands of pounds in lost production and consultancy fees, she suggested.

UFU president Ivor Ferguson said the current uncertainty was unhelpful and unfair and the union had run out of patience with the authorities.

“It is time for Daera to act. Many farmers have submitted plans to upgrade their buildings and ultimately reduce ammonia emissions,” Mr Ferguson said.

He called on Daera to look at the deadlocked farms and approve them under existing laws that remained valid, despite the assembly collapse.

“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 this must end now,” Mr Ferguson insisted.

“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,” he said.

“Our farmers are angry and frustrated, and rightly so. They do not know what to do next or who to turn to,” said Mr Ferguson.

The UFU has met NIEA officials on a number of occasions and stressed repeatedly that a decision must be made, so farmers can progress.

The UFU has also requested a meeting with SES and awaits its response.

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