Industry groups have hit out at proposals by the Environment Agency (EA) to increase permit charges which they say could have a detrimental impact on farm businesses.
A consultation document published by the EA last November proposed a number of several fold increases in application, variation, surrender and annual compliance permit fees, which the NFU described as ‘disproportionately high’.
Permit systems for poultry farming, spreading of waste and sheep dip, on-farm anaerobic digestion and flood management would all be affected.
The changes are due to be implemented from April 1, just two months from the conclusion of the consultation period.
NFU environment forum chairman Mark Pope said: “Very little information has been provided on the basis for these charge changes so the onus is solely on the EA to demonstrate greater transparency and show that these costs are fair, proportionate and competitive.
“We are extremely concerned that instead of investing in improving efficiency, productivity and new technology, we could see a lot of our costs tied up with inflated administrative costs.”
Mr Pope said a permit usually had wider socio-economic and environmental benefits, such as flood mitigation, which should be recognised when the EA was calculating the costs of permit administration.
He added: “We want farming to continue to improve its environmental performance, but these cost increases could be seen as a disincentive to improve management practices or limit the availability of management options in the future. The proposals could also put up barriers to new permit applicants.”
The NFU has called on the EA to delay the charges until April 2019 in order to give the industry time to have further discussions with the EA.
The National Sheep Association (NSA) said its members were facing a fivefold increase on both new licences and renewals covering the disposal of organophosphate (OP) sheep dip.
NSA communications manager Joanne Briggs said: “Industry organisations have been very robust in their responses to the Environment Agency, highlighting the serious and far-reaching consequences of a price increase making dipping less readily accessible to sheep farmers.
“It is disappointing something which affects the sector on so many levels (including animal welfare, business productivity and export standards) was tied up in cross-industry consultation with a lack of clarity and communication.
“It is also concerning the changes are proposed for April 2018, as this leaves very little time for the consultation responses to be considered and acted upon.”
The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA), the UK’s trade body for AD, said the proposals, which could see permit costs double, were ‘unjustified’.
ADBA chief executive Charlotte Morton said: “AD operators are already under increased financial pressure and even small cost increases will result in greater strain and could have a detrimental impact.
“Should the proposals lead to reduced enthusiasm in investing in the industry or limit operators’ ability to invest in their operations, this could be detrimental to the environment and to AD’s ability to meet vital policy goals.”
An EA spokesman said: “We have consulted on the new proposals and are very much listening to the views that have come in response over the past eight weeks. We will be looking to see how we can adapt the proposals in light of these responses.”