Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Friday 27 April 2018

Smaller farms likely to face new rules on boundary planning

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Farmers could be forced to seek planning permission and pay for costly environmental impact assessments before being allowed to remove a hedge on their farm, under new plans from the Department of the Environment.

Until now, farms under 100ha in size have been exempt from planning permission for restructuring or removal of field boundaries.

However, the Department of the Environment is proposing a new threshold exemption that would mean that any farm above 25ha in size would have to apply for planning permission to remove a boundary.

Given that the average farm size in Ireland is 36ha, the changes would bring thousands of farms inside the planning permission net. The proposed rules would also make planning permission necessary if more than 2km of hedge was being removed or the hedge removal had "significant adverse effects on the environment".

The Department is also proposing to make environmental impact assessment (EIA) compulsory where the farm exceeds 50ha in size, if more than 4km of hedge is being removed or the boundary removal is deemed to have significant adverse environmental effects.

Changes

EIA reports can cost several thousand euro and were previously only required when a farm exceeded 100ha in size.

The proposed changes would also have implications for using uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture, as well as irrigation and land drainage projects.

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However, the IFA has objected to the proposed changes, describing them as a "further encroachment of the state on landowners rights".

In a letter to the Department of the Environment, the IFA's environment chairman Pat Farrell and rural development chairman Tom Turley pointed out that farmers were already subject to onerous legislative requirements, including the Wildlife Act, cross-compliance, REPS and AEOS rules governing hedgerow and boundary management.

The pair also questioned the need for new rules on hedgerow removal, since more than 10,000km of hedges were planted under REPS over the past 10 years.

It is understood the departments of Environment and Agriculture are currently in negotiations with the European Commission, which ruled that Ireland had failed to implement its EIA directive in full.

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