The Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has decided that its Environment Agency (NIEA) will no longer rely on published Ammonia Standing Advice as the basis for statutory advice on planning applications, in a departure from the direction set by the previous DAERA Minister.
As a result, with immediate effect, the NIEA will instead provide planning authorities with case and site-specific advice, on a case-by-case basis, until such times as a new ammonia strategy and updated standing advice have been agreed and are in place.
NIEA has informed planning authorities and other stakeholders of the decision.
This decision has been taken by a senior officer of the Department under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2022, after careful consideration and in response to a potential legal challenge by the Office of Environmental Protection and has been approved by the Permanent Secretary.
The NIEA fulfils an important role on behalf of the Department in providing advice to planning authorities on applications for planning permission, particularly in cases where a development proposal is likely to have an adverse effect on a Northern Ireland priority habitat or priority species or is likely to have an effect on an Area of Special Scientific Interest or a European site. However, decisions on whether planning permission should be granted rest with the relevant planning authority.
Officials are working hard to finalise a new draft strategy on ammonia informed by the responses received to the Call for Evidence which closed in October this year. DAERA remains committed to ensuring that advice to returning ministers on a new strategy is informed by science and evidence and supports and delivers the Department’s statutory obligations relevant to safeguarding our natural environment.
While timescales for agreeing and implementing a new strategy will be dependent on the return of ministers, officials are committed to ensuring that proposals for that new strategy are ready for ministers’ consideration early in the New Year.
Notes to editors:
- Departing from the policy position of the former minister has been an extremely difficult judgement for officials and was only taken and approved after careful consideration of the guiding principles for decision-making in the statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State for NI under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2022.
- The Operational Protocol on ammonia (also known as the Ammonia Standing Advice) was routinely used by NIEA for statutory planning advice and in consideration of the air quality impacts on designated sites from intensive agricultural and industrial activities requiring a Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) permit.
- The case-by-case advice to be provided in place of the Operational Protocol will continue to use the existing 7.5km screening distance and will present key scientific facts to help inform decisions by planning authorities, such as:
- Critical Levels and Loads (extracted from the Air Pollution Information System – APIS for each designated site;
- Current levels of ammonia and NOx concentrations (if applicable) and nitrogen deposition (extracted from APIS) for each designated site;
- Process contribution as a percentage of the Critical Level/Load;
- Predicted Environmental Concentration (background + PC) as a percentage of the Critical Level/Load Sensitivity and condition of the habitat(s) based on best available scientific information;
- Latest statistics on ammonia/NOx emissions (if applicable) extracted from the NI Environmental Statistics Report (2023) We will use a nugatory 0.08% threshold to inform the NIEA response. This is in line within the scientific findings of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s (JNCC) ‘Guidance on Decision Making Thresholds for Air Pollution 2021’ reports.
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