Farming organisations have urged the Environment Agency to rethink plans to impose huge hikes in permit charges on the pig and poultry sectors.
The agency plans were set out in its Strategic Review of Charges consultation.
It stated that permit variation fees would soar from £380 to between £2,400 and £7,000, depending upon the degree of variation. The higher level equates to an 18-fold increase.
In addition, it proposed new application fees that would increase from the current level at £3,750 to about £8,000.
What is an environmental permit and who needs one?
An environmental permit is permission to operate and is issued by the Environment Agency across a range of industries.
Only pig farms over a certain size need a permit. Anyone who has places for either 2,000-plus finishing pigs over 30kg or 750 sows (including served gilts) needs a permit.
Poultry producers with more than 40,000 places also require one.
If you are planning to expand and think you might need one, contact the EA’s farming team, as failure to operate without a permit is a criminal offence.
Four groups – the NFU, National Pig Association (NPA), British Poultry Council (BPC) and British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) – said the planned rises would cause financial difficulty in both sectors.
In a letter to Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan, the four farming organisations said the significant unbudgeted costs would discourage farm businesses from adopting new technologies, curb plans for modernisation and reduce investment in improved environmental practices.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said the proposed charge increases were “unjustified, unfair and will cause unnecessary damage to pig farmers who have done nothing to deserve this”.
“In fact, the pig sector has invested heavily over the years to address the concerns covered by environmental permits, making it easier for the Environment Agency to do its job.
“That this is how we are repaid is utterly unacceptable and we are asking in the strongest terms for the Environment Agency to think again,” said Dr Davies.
That this is how we are repaid is utterly unacceptable and we are asking in the strongest terms for the Environment Agency to think again
Zoe Davies, NPA
She also criticised the thinking behind the proposed hikes.
“We are not satisfied with the reasons provided to justify the charges and believe there is a lot more the Environment Agency could do internally to improve its processes and reduce its own costs, rather than passing its inefficiencies on to the pig sector.
“If these charge increases go ahead, it will not only hamper pig farmers – who have come under huge financial pressure over the years – to invest in meeting challenges like environmental pollution, but will erode confidence in the Environment Agency itself.”
NFU poultry board chairman Duncan Priestner said the charges could be a backward step for the environment.
“The changes could see many pig and poultry businesses take a step back from innovating to ensure they can deal with inflated administrative costs.
“This money would be far better spent invested in the business for the benefit of the environment. The proposed fee increases are inequitable and unjustified – a view that we will be conveying strongly to the Environment Agency.”
In response, the EA explains that the proposals laid out in the consultation aim to shift the cost of regulation from the public purse to the sectors involved.
“The proposed changes will mean that businesses pay for the full services they use – a more financially-sustainable model that will lead to long-term environmental improvements,” said a spokesman.
“Businesses that are well-managed and low-hazard present a low environmental risk and would be charged less. Higher-risk or poor-performing businesses would be charged more.”