DUP Councillors Support local Farmers
DUP Councillors Support local Farmers

Following a meeting between Down District Farmers for Renewable Energy (DDFFRE) and Down District DUP Councilors, the on-going refusal of the new Down senior planner Barbara Elliot to meet local farmers and discuss the years-long backlog in planning applications appears to be crumbling. Since the meeting last week, Cllr Garth Craig has been able to confirm that Ms Elliot is at least prepared to meet with Down Councilors to discuss the issues, if not with the farmers themselves.

DDFFRE chair Alan Montgomery of Killough said that “following a meeting with Minister Attwood late last year, we are aware that the norm for planning decisions on renewable energy projects across NI is 4 to 6 months, but that the comparable figures here in Down District is 2 to 3 years. We were also informed by Minister Attwood that the N.I. approval rate is 83%, whereas an UFU Freedom of Information request in Down District exposed our rate of approval in 2010 as only 18% and most of these were for developers, not farmers. We have been seeking a meeting with the new head planner to explain this obvious discrepancy”.

Farmers John Carville and Ted Nixon of Drumsnade thanked Cllrs Billy Walker, William Dick and Garth Craig for meeting with them and local Independent Cllr Cadogan Enright for setting up the meeting with his DUP colleagues. He said “We are grateful to  Cllr Garth Craig for following up with the planning office and I understand that Cllr Billy Walker is also seeking a meeting with the DETI minister Arlene Foster to explore why Farmers are being prevented from diversifying into this new industry in Down District”.

Cllr Garth Craig thanked Cllr Enright for the invitation and said “I was shocked by the on-going refusal to meet with local farmers, and the wide disparity exposed by the UFU between farmers in Lecale and the rest of NI. This anomaly will hurt the local farming community and the DUP group in Down Council will address this serious planning issue and seek help with Minister Foster to address issues of grid connectivity for local farmers as well”.

Iain McMordie of Rossglass said “If we cannot get the Down District planning department to reflect normal policy locally, we will be calling for all renewable energy applications to be processed centrally in the regional headquarters of the planning service by properly qualified and trained personnel.”