Clyde Shanks outlines the importance of a responsive planning system for the agri food sector

shanksClyde Shanks reflects on opportunities for the Agrifood sector and the need for a responsive planning system to deal promptly with new development projects

Sector Growth

2015 has seen continued efforts to enhance industry and government communication and efforts to place Northern Ireland on a growth footing across its Agrifood supply chain. The focus must be to maximise penetration of both national and international market opportunities.

The Agri Food Strategy Board (AFSB) ‘Going for Growth’ Strategy, which sets out a vision and development blueprint up to 2020 continues to have a positive impact since its publication in 2013 with regular monitoring and review on how the industry is doing.

This was evident during the annual agendaNI Agriculture and Food Conference ‘Meeting the Challenges Ahead’ before the Christmas break.

It reflected on Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill’s confirmation in November that Northern Ireland has been provisionally recommended for approval to export pork to China.

With China expecting to become the world’s leading consumer of pork on a per capita basis, projected to surpass the European Union by 2022, this presents a huge opportunity for the Northern Ireland agri-food sector to serve this burgeoning market.

2016 also presents an exciting initiative, showcasing Northern Ireland’s ‘Year of Food’, celebrating and marketing NI as a destination and source of food of the highest quality.

Major players in the industry are continuing to invest in new technologies and more efficient production facilities to place them on the best footing to be competitive. That introduces new development plans and of course the need to engage appropriate professionals to secure planning permission and engage with the planning teams within our 11 new Councils.

In turn it challenges the new Councils to do their bit by proactively responding to key development proposals to maintain momentum in enhancing our agrifood infrastructure.

A responsive planning system is critical to expoiting national and global export market opportunities and positive engagement is needed to help to quickly deliver agrifood sector projects on the ground.

Challenges Faced

This forward looking agenda does face a context of changing regulations and a planning system that remains in transition post reform in April 2015.

The movement of planning powers to the new Councils and legislative change present new requirements for the sector, notably in relation to intensive farming and agricultural development.

There is the fresh prospect of having to undertake pre-application consultation with local residents in advance of submitting an application and compelling applicants to carry out site specific and cumulative impacts that potentially arise from development such as odour, air quality, drainage, bio-diversity on European Protected and/or Priority Habitats with nitrates management remaining very high up on the agenda. 

The submission of well prepared, well researched and well presented planning applications are in much sharper focus now than ever before 

This is all a far cry from before when a set of plans and completion of mandatory application forms would have secured the all-important green form. The submission of well-prepared, well-researched and well-presented planning applications are in much sharper focus now than ever before.

It means early engagement with the local Council, NIEA and DARD to establish parameters and inform and agree the suite of environmental documentation required.

New Councils

Councils are beginning to settle into their new roles after the anticipated period of transition.

Councils which have performed better have done so because those leading them have a desire to run them like a business and to foster that attitude throughout their team.

It is clear that performance is intrinsically linked to the personalities of senior planning officials and their respective teams.

Councils which have performed better have done so because those leading them have a desire to run them like a business and to foster that attitude throughout their team. That is true of Antrim and Newtownabbey and Mid-Ulster Councils in particular who are to be congratulated for their refreshingly open approach.

There remains a cautious and laboured approach across too many of the Council planning teams who remain wedded to the inherent delays of the NI Direct holding bay inevitably embracing an unnecessary further administrative layer and cumbersome burden to the system.

One of the first objectives of the transition to the new set up has been to attempt to change the mind-set that the new planning teams are no longer DoE employees but Council members of staff and to integrate them to Council expectations – there needs to be an embracing of new development and a desire to want to work to secure permissions promptly. 

Recent Success

Clyde Shanks has secured notable success in the agrifood sector, delivering planning permission across a wide range of agri-food projects and remain busy across the sector in continuing that success.

We are now in our third year of co-ordinating the strategic expansion of Moy Park’s poultry production network across NI, with over 100 permissions secured. This includes production of Environmental Statements where thresholds have been triggered by bird numbers on site.

We have secured permission for a 3MW Centralised AD plant in a former quarry site in Ballymena which will deliver infrastructure to sustainably utilise poultry litter.

We are actively seeking permission for Preferred Capital Management (PCM) for a large breeder pig farm in Co. Derry, infrastructure that is key to the growth export opportunities which need to be exploited.

We have also been busy in helping suppliers in the arable sector to progress investment plans. In 2015 we secured permission for an In-Vessel Composting (IVC) facility comprising 15,000 sq.m. facility at Ballygawley on behalf of Northway Mushrooms.

Permission for this £15 million investment was granted in 19 weeks and construction work is anticipated to commence in 2016 to deliver a much needed supply of compost/substrate for mushroom and strawberry sectors here.

In tandem, we are assisting Cornacrieve Mushrooms, with their major development of mushroom tunnels to include a new multi-million pound Research and Development Facility in Co Tyrone. Our spectrum of work has also involved advice to a number of peat extraction companies, Bulrush Horticulture and McDon Peat who export peat to countries in Europe and Asia.

We look forward to 2016 being one of continued growth in the sector and to continuing to play our part in delivering notable successes.

Clyde Shanks is Northern Ireland’s largest independently owned employer of chartered planners and offers a full service planning consultancy offer across all development sectors. Please visit our newly refreshed website www.clydeshanks.com for more information on what we do and who we work for. 

If your company is planning agrifood development and needs an experienced planning team to help make that happen we would love to talk to you. Please contact Clyde or Thomas for an initial chat on 028 9043 4393.

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