A pause in the construction of Northern Ireland farm buildings is “completely unfair” on farmers according to the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has contacted planners to inform them that they have “paused all consultations on agriculture planning applications with ammonia considerations” in Northern Ireland.

UFU president, David Brown, said the decision to stall the development of farm buildings across Northern Ireland will impact all sectors and farms of all sizes and will have “wide reaching implications”.

He said that the NIEA has “halted positive agriculture developments” and is treating Northern Irish farmers – who are “already working hard to reduce ammonia” – extremely unfairly.

“Northern Ireland farmers are already working to reduce ammonia and are eager to do more by developing their farm efficiently to produce sustainable high-quality food,” he said.

“Instead of encouraging this ambition and supporting our farmers to upgrade buildings, improve animal and bird welfare and environmental standards, NIEA has halted positive agriculture developments.

“To say our farmers are frustrated is an understatement and how they are being treated by NIEA is completely unfair.”

Brown believes that the NIEA’s capability has been called into question and that their decision to stall on-farm planning applications is “due to their failure to agree on an appropriate planning policy to support the reduction of ammonia emissions”.

‘Not acceptable’

Brown has also urged the NIEA not to pause the farm building applications that are currently in the planning process for the duration of its legal talks and considerations.

“Our farmers have spent thousands on planning applications, backed up by essential evidence. They have done what is required and yet are no further forward,” he said.

“Many of these applications have been lingering in the system for years. NIEA must get to work urgently and progress with applications that are currently within the planning process.”

Brown said the UFU is aware that the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is planning a call for evidence, and that this should provide clarity going forward, but that it is “not acceptable to halt consultations in the meantime”.

“Especially when the ‘call for evidence’ cannot be progressed much further with no DAERA minister in place, leaving on farm developments in stalemate for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Brown said that the subject was a “pressing matter” and that the UFU would be seeking legal advice on the NIEA’s decision.