Planning permission for all agricultural development is becoming subject to more and more scrutiny, according to planning consultants.
There is a noticeable rise in the number of planning applications that require further information to be submitted to the county council, and a growing proportion that are being sent for what is termed “appropriate assessment”.
Where county council planning officials feel the proposed farm development is in or near an area where it could have an environmental impact, the county council can refer the application to An Taisce.
An Taisce has what’s known as “prescribed status” under planning law, which means that local authorities must refer to it planning applications that may affect heritage.
In multiple planning documents seen by the Irish Farmers Journal, An Taisce outlines a series of environmental concerns in relation to agricultural developments, including water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, ammonia emissions and biodiversity loss on a national and local level.
An Taisce then goes on to recommend that the development be subject to what is called “appropriate assessment”.
A council request for further information, although not necessarily costly, can result in delays of up to six or seven months for the farmer.
However the paperwork involved in fulfilling the appropriate assessment can cost anything from several hundred euro up to several thousand.
Over 2.2m acres of Ireland are designated SAC and SPA lands
If it’s deemed that a Natura Impact Statement (NIS) is required, a qualified ecologist must be employed to produce a comprehensive ecological impact assessment of the development, the direct and indirect impacts that the development might have on its own, or in combination with other plans and projects, on one or more Natura 2000 sites.
In Ireland, the Natura 2000 network comprises Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Over 2.2m acres of Ireland are designated SAC and SPA lands.
Tipperary-based Aidan Kelly of Agri Design & Planning Services had more than 30 of his clients directed to submit ecology reports for their proposed farm developments in 2020, a massive increase on previous years.
By comparison, there were just 10 ecology reports required in 2019, four in 2018 and none at all in 2017.
“Last year, every one of those farmers who submitted ecology reports were passed and planning permission granted,” Kelly told the Irish Farmers Journal, “But it could add thousands to the cost, not to mind say the stress on the client.”
Some county councils have a standard form for farm buildings and developments, while others have separate and detailed forms for farmers to fill out
Grasstec’s Maeve D’Arcy said that some clients whose farm developments required NIAs are given suggestions to mitigate the potential impacts highlighted by the ecology report.
“It might require that there is no open slurry storage, for example, that all slurry stores are roofed,” she said.
In particularly sensitive areas, there might be strict conditions applied for the construction stage, such as needing all trucks to be cleaned entering or leaving the site, to prevent material from being spread.
Several planners who spoke to the Irish Farmers Journal highlighted the wide variation in planning requirements between county councils.
Some county councils have a standard form for farm buildings and developments, while others have separate and detailed forms for farmers to fill out.
Clare County Council refers all farm developments to its scientific section as a matter of course, while counties Tipperary, Monaghan, Limerick, Waterford and Longford have additional application forms for agricultural developments.
Leitrim County Council has, since June 2020, demanded a nutrient management plan for all farm developments.
Cavan County Council has one of the most exhaustive forms, requesting details of nitrates derogation and documentary evidence of spreadlands and ownership of those spreadlands for the slurry produced on farm.
Unless there is 1m of soil depth on the land, it cannot be considered as suitable area for land spread of slurry, planning officials have told farmers
Anecdotally, planning officials in Co Mayo are very strict on developments in proximity to SAC land. In one case, a farmer was asked to prove that the water in drains on the farm was not going to end up in an SAC eight miles away.
Kildare County Council is known to be very strict on soil depth for slurry spread. Unless there is 1m of soil depth on the land, it cannot be considered as suitable area for land spread of slurry, planning officials have told farmers. To prove its suitability, farmers could be required to dig test holes on 30% of the farm.
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