Concerns voiced over farm planning directive


NEW REGULATIONS on farm development “will ensure that Ireland’s biodiversity will continue to decline and many more archaeological monuments will vanish without a trace”, according to Friends of the Irish Environment.

The regulations were made this week by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to avoid the imposition of daily fines of €33,000 by the European Commission for breaches of the environmental impact assessment directive.

But the environmental organisation warned that “moving the control of rural planning out of the Department of the Environment and into the department responsible for massively increased production goals . . . will do nothing to protect the areas of the countryside that are most at risk.”

A spokesman for the Friends of the Irish Environment group drew attention to the thresholds now being set for mandatory environmental impact assessment – removal of field boundaries (4km), recontouring land (5 hectares) and use of semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture (50 hectares).

These thresholds were far too high “given the average farm size in sensitive areas and failure to address cumulative impact” of changes in land use and he expressed surprise the European Commission had given its consent.

The regulations specify that “additional considerations must be given to activities that impact on certain sites such as designated Natura 2000 areas, recorded monuments, natural heritage areas . . . and other nature reserves, given their environmental and heritage sensitivities.”

Only in the case of wetlands have stricter criteria been imposed.

The threshold for drainage of wetlands has been reduced from 20 to two hectares and an environmental impact statement may be required for drainage below this threshold.