A large number of local farmers gathered to meet John McCallister and local UUP councilors at Down District Councils new headquarters on the Ardglass Road. The UFU-backed ‘Down District Farmers for Renewable Energy’ had also invited Elliot Bell of the UFU to the meeting.
The main business of the meeting was to make a presentation on the Agri-Business opportunities arising from renewable energy in Northern Ireland, with one £ in every 20 now spent on energy in the local economy.
Chairperson Alan Montgomery of Bright expressed thanks to John McCallister for making time to come and listen to the problems of local farmers across a wide swathe of Down District. Alan highlighted bills assembled by local farmers both now and 10 years ago.
Alan said “Diesel is now 70p, but was 19.2p ten years ago. Electricity is now 17p per unit but ten years ago was 9p. Farming is under huge pressure on cost from the UK multiples, and spiraling energy costs are damaging what is both NI’s and Down Districts biggest industry.”
John Trainor of Ballykinlar said “Farmers from Lecale to Drumsnade see this issue as both a major problem and our biggest opportunity. £1.1 billion per annum is spent on energy in NI with most of this going to corrupt foreign regimes or the taxman in Westminster. We have to change and we need politicians to help us help ourselves by removing obstacles preventing us achieving the inevitable low-carbon economy of the future”.
The meeting highlighted for John McCallister and his team the different forms of economic discrimination being encounter by farmers in South East Down. Examples given included the new All-Island Grid being upgrading in the 3 Western Counties of NI but hardly at all in South Down leaving local farmers unable to participate in NI’s greatest opportunity in modern times and the local planning office creating obstacles and delaying planning application 2/3 years rather than the 4/6 months as in the rest of the province.
Pat Magee of Ballyhornan said “Locally, most favorable planning decisions seem to be for developers rather than for farmers who normally have a real need for on-farm energy consumption as well export to the grid. Many of us described the size and nature of our energy bills to John as our local MLA varying from £11,000 pa up £32,000 pa
John McCallister noted with concern that a further £44 million in grid re-enforcement had just been allowed for the West of the province this week and that once again South Down had been forgotten and pledged to tackle this in Stormont and to assist local farmers with their planning issues.