Farmers to fight 'unjustified and unfair' proposed environmental permit charge increases

Farming industry urges Environment Agency to reconsider proposed permit charges
Farming industry urges Environment Agency to reconsider proposed permit charges

Farming organisations have joined forces to urge the Environment Agency to rethink proposed levels of environmental permit charge increases for the intensive pig and poultry sectors.

The NFU, National Pig Association (NPA), British Poultry Council (BPC) and British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) are warning that a doubling of application fees and a significant uplift in variation fees would cause huge concern for pig and poultry farmers.

It comes at a time when businesses are already making significant investments in order to improve competitiveness.

The Environment Agency consultation on its Strategic Review of Charges states that; permit variation fees will increase from £380 to between approximately £2,400 and £7,000 depending upon the degree of variation. In addition new application fees could rise from £3,750 to around £8,000.

In a letter to the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, the four farming organisations say the significant unbudgeted costs will discourage farm businesses from adopting new technologies, curbing plans for modernisation and investing in improved environmental practices.

'Very serious concerns'

NFU poultry board chairman Duncan Priestner said the changes raise "very serious concerns" for the industry. He said the Environment Agency must reconsider.

“Farm businesses are incredibly innovative and are often early adopters of new technology – this sharp increase in costs levelled on businesses by the Environment Agency could seriously curtail these advancements,” Mr Priestner said.

“Many businesses are currently suffering from a lack of certainty regarding the future environment we will work in after Brexit and many are already making cost changes to improve their efficiency and competitiveness on farm.

“These proposed changes could see many pig and poultry businesses take a step back from innovating to ensure they can deal with inflated administrative costs.

“In return for additional cost we are receiving nothing extra in return. This money would be far better spent invested in the business for the benefit of the environment. The proposed fee increases are inequitable and unjustified – a view that we will be conveying strongly to the Environment Agency.”

'Unnecessary damage'

The NPA has called the changes "unjustified and unfair", and said it will cause "unnecessary damage" to pig farmers who have "done nothing to deserve this".

NPA Chief Executive Zoe Davies said the pig sector has "invested heavily" over the years to address the concerns covered by environmental permits, making it easier for the Environment Agency to do its job.

"That this is how we are repaid is utterly unacceptable and we are asking in the strongest terms for the Environment Agency to think again," Ms Davies explained.

"We are not satisfied with the reasons provided to justify the charges and believe that there is a lot more the Environment Agency could do internally to improve its processes and reduce its own costs, rather than passing its inefficiencies onto the pig sector.

"If these charge increases go ahead, it will not only hamper pig farmers, who have come under huge financial pressure over the years, to invest in meeting challenges like environmental pollution, but will erode confidence in the Environment Agency, itself."

'Strong track record'

Chief Executive of the British Poultry Council Richard Griffiths said respecting the environment is a "fundamental" part of British poultry meat production, and farmers have a strong track record of acting responsibly.

He said farmers often work alongside regulators to prevent pollution incidents, responding to them, tackling the root cause of the problem and promoting good practice.

“We are calling on the Environment Agency to acknowledge our contribution to food production that respects the environment and reconsider the proposed changes to the environmental permit charge,” Mr Griffiths said.

Mark Williams, Chief Executive of the BEIC, added: “The proposals will hinder future innovation in food production and environmental technologies in the egg industry. We recognise and take seriously our duty to protect the environment as our track record demonstrates.

“We achieve this whilst producing a highly nutritious and affordable food for UK consumers. These extraordinary increases in charges will compromise this.”