The NPA has called on the Environment Agency (EA) to shelve its ‘damaging’ plans to significantly increase environmental permit charges.
The agency is proposing to increase permit variation fees from £380 to between approximately £2,400 and £7,000, depending on the degree of variation. New application fees could rise from £3,750 to around £8,000.
The EA said the proposals were for a ‘simpler and more consistent charging arrangement’ and that the charges would reflect the amount of regulatory effort needed at a site.
But in its response to the consultation, which can be viewed here, the NPA said existing permitted units and new installations were likely to be ‘extremely negatively financially affected’ by the ‘prohibitive’ hikes, which it insisted were not justified.
“At a time of falling prices, producers are likely to be deterred from applying for a permit at all, preferring instead to come in below the threshold, or even to plan for much bigger installations than they would otherwise in order to justify the cost,” the response, compiled by chief executive Zoe Davies, said.
The NPA fears charges will exacerbate the struggles larger units face in planning applications, due to ‘misinformed’ NGO pressure. With an estimated 50% of pig buildings more than 20-years-old, preventing much-needed investment in new efficient buildings will affect productivity, as well as compromising efforts to deliver the highest animal health and welfare and environmental standards, the response to the consultation said.
“Whilst we appreciate that previous costs were kept artificially low and do need to increase, to date we have seen no evidence to justify such a sizeable increase as this,” the document added. It described the current service as ‘notoriously slow and unwieldy’ and said there was no indication of how this would improve following a charge increase.
The NPA said the agency has failed to recognise the input the sector has had over many years in streamline the process. It calls on it to shelve the charges until an ongoing ‘light touch review’ has been completed and further efficiencies have been found. It said the industry would be happy to work with the agency to identify efficiencies.
It also calls for the agency to consider a more flexible, stepped approach to the new charges and discounts for new entrants and larger businesses where multiple permits are managed centrally, reducing costs.
Dr Davies said: “These charges are excessive, unjustified and will damage progressive producers. They must not be imposed on the industry in their current form and in our response we are urging the Environment Agency to delay implementing the charge increases until a review has taken place to identify where further costs can be saved.”