Tuesday 26 July 2011

Farm groups point finger over planning confusion

Farm organisations have slammed the Department of Agriculture's failure to give accurate information on proposed new planning rules for on-farm improvements.

Under a new regime, which was outlined to farm bodies recently by officials from the departments of Agriculture and Environment, it was proposed that planning permission would be needed for the drainage of wetlands, while the reclamation of farmland would in some instances require Department of Agriculture approval.

A screening process is to be introduced to assess land reclamation projects. However, the Department of Agriculture has yet to outline the threshold levels at which this process kicks in.

Speaking after a recent presentation given by the Department of the Environment to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, IFA president John Bryan said farmers needed clarity on the issue.

"There is a serious lack of factual information regarding this proposed planning legislation and the impact it would have on the farming community," Mr Bryan said.

He called on Environment Minister Phil Hogan and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to "immediately address farmers' concerns".

Mr Bryan said the new planning regime had the potential to "sterilise" productive farmland.


"Under existing cross-compliance and environmental legislation farmers are already compliant and do not need further measures that will duplicate existing measures and add further bureaucracy," Mr Bryan said.

"This will stifle the €4bn growth in exports identified in the Government's strategy for the sector, Food Harvest 2020."

The drive to change the planning regulations has been prompted by a European Court of Justice ruling dating back to November 2008. The ruling found that Ireland's system of environmental impact assessments (EIA) for agriculture and aquaculture-related projects was in breach of EU directives.

Last month, Ireland was threatened with fines of €4,000/day unless it implemented the directives correctly. If Ireland is still non-compliant by July 23, the fines could rise to €33,000/day.

Farm organisations fear that Ireland could now be bounced into a very restrictive planning regime if legislation is rushed through to meet the July 23 deadline.

There are also concerns that the Commission is demanding that threshold levels for the screening of farm reclamation work should be set as close to zero as possible.

A Department spokesman said no decision had been taken on the threshold level for screening.

Declan O'Brien
Irish Independent


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