Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 7 May 1980

Vol. 94 No. 2

Adjournment Matter. - Slatted Cowhouses.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing this question on the Adjournment. I intend to be very brief as we have only 30 minutes.

I put down this motion because we are encountering a tremendous amount of difficulty vis-á-vis planning and other matters relating to farm buildings. I can speak only for Galway, but I believe the same problems are in other counties also.

In the last four or five years because of increased stocking rates and our increased use of fertiliser and so on, the farming community have become very aware of their responsibility in regard to pollution, and because of the increased number of livestock on our farms this has become a huge problem. I assume that certain Acts were brought before the Oireachtas in 1977 with this in mind. I will give an example to illustrate my point. I know a farmer in County Galway who decided last September to build a slatted cattle house. He applied to the local authority for planning permission and was given exempted development permission, and he received a note from the local authority to that effect. This man brought this notice to the area offices of the farm development service, and said that if he built that house on the spot he had indicated to the local authority they would not give him a grant. The matter was referred back to the local authority and the health inspector was then introduced to it. Several months later we had no alternative but to apply for full planning permission for the slatted house. It was the same as if he was building a new dwellinghouse.

The Exempted Development Regulations of 1977 were introduced on the basis that because there were cattle houses of certain standards and certain types there would be no need to go to the expense and trouble of applying to the local authority for full planning permission as would be required for a dwellinghouse. The original Health Act, 1878 and the Exempted Development Regulations, 1977 are in conflict. When the legislators drew up the Health Act, 1878 there was no such thing as a slatted house. The slatted house is a modern way of housing cattle on slats whereby the effluent is stored in a slurry pit under the house, and in 1878 one did not have that type of development. The anomaly is that a cattle house under 400 square metres and less than seven metres high is exempted under the Exempted Development Act but a slurry pit under it is not because that involves effluent and it is supposed to be 100 metres from the nearest road, neighbour's house, well, stream and so on.

Under the original Health Act, 1878 that house without the slurry pit under it need be only 10 metres from these locations. I admit that in the sixties and seventies to put a huge complex like that within 10 metres of a road or a well was unthinkable. I would have to agree with the planners in that case. However, this 100 metres stipulation is creating havoc particularly for farmers with very small acreage. There are certain townlands, as the Minister is very well aware, where if one had to go back 100 metres to build this type of a house one would literally end up in a neighbour's garden because there are so many small fields, fragmented holdings and so on. A farmer looking for planning permission would want to be some type of professor to know were to go. I could name eight or ten people who are totally unaware of where they will have to go to get planning permission for this type of a house.

This is important for many farmers because so much money is involved in the grants. It can be said that if we were civic minded we should not be worried about the grant, but financial restraints being what they are the grants are very important and most people would not be able to erect those buildings were it not for the grants under the farm modernisation scheme. I will be extremely thankful to the Minister if we can tease out this mess. I am very thankful for being allowed to raise the matter and I have no doubt that lot of people will want to read the Minister's reply.

I support effluent controls, and we cannot have pollution all over the place. That is very important. However, the time has now come for the Department of Health, the local county councils, the local authorities and the Department of Agriculture to sit down and draw up basic rules that all three will stand by. If a farmer applied for full planning permission for a slatted house and in his wisdom decided to build it beside a road or beside a neighbour's house subject to full planning permission, the Department of Agriculture would have to pay a grant for it. At least that is the way our local authority interpret it. The position with exempted development is not like that. The local authorities will give planning permission but with the farm development service, unless the Department of Agriculture rules are observed the grant is not given. That is a peculiar arrangement, and the matter will have to be streamlined so that a farmer at least will know where to go to get planning permission.

I am not advocating that every single development that takes place in a farm should be subject to full planning permission. We have enough trouble in the area of dwelling-houses, and a simplified system should be worked out on the basis of distances that would be reasonable and at the same time safeguard the entire area from pollution. In most cases the 100 metres is not particularly sensible. If the building is near a water source there could be pollution and it is important that our water sources are not polluted. However, when you consider this new, modern technique of housing cattle and the fact that the slurry is pumped onto the fields, this is more streamlined than if the cattle were roaming around the farm as they do in some places. This makes for good husbandry and good pollution control.

We have a problem also if a farmer decides to build one of those slatted houses or a dungstead or so on near his own house. Under the rule as it now stands, by virtue of a farmer's application to build a silage pit or cattle house near his own house we assume that he is accepting responsibility. Some people in planning sections would say that their job is to save a man from himself, that people do queer things and that they might be sorry for it afterwards. If a man applies to build a farm building on his own farm, so long as it does not interfere with anybody else and the problems involved are explained to him, I see no reason why he should not. Obviously a silage pit or a dungstead placed near a neighbour would raise an entirely different question because we have to take note of a person's individual right, and whatever new structure would be adhered to I assume that great consideration would be given to the third party.

There are a number, of questions to which I would like answers. Who is the overall authority vis-á-vis planning of farm buildings? Is it the county council, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health, or a combination of all three? Secondly, the question of a farmer deciding to build within 100 metres of his own house, I ask the powers that be to take into consideration that, once he is warned about the consequences, if he wants to build it within 100 metres of his own house he should be allowed to do so. Thirdly, is it possible at this stage for the Department of Agriculture through their field men down the country, the Department of Health and the councils to come together to talk this out fairly quickly and have a single application form to the planning body—I assume it would be the local authority—so that the applicant would know where he stood straight away?

To illustrate finally what I am saying. I came across another constituent recently who decided to build a hay-shed which under the Act can be built within ten metres of a roadway subject to the county engineer's approval. This person wanted to put a lean-to on to the hayshed in which he would put cows. Because cows would be housed there, there would have to be a dungstead. There was no objection to the cowhouse as such beside the hayshed, but the dungstead would have to be 100 metres from the road, and the farmer would need an aircraft to get the effluent from the cowhouse half day down the field to the dungstead. That is not good planning. It could be said that the hayshed and the cowhouse are too near the road and the dungstead is too far away.

This is important for many farmers because so much money is involved in the grants. It can be said that if we were civic-minded we should not be worried about the grant, but financial restraints being what they are the grants are very important and most people would not be able to erect those buildings were it not for the grants under the farm modernisation scheme. I will be extremely thankful to the Minister if we can tease out this mess. I am thankful for being allowed to raise the matter and I have no doubt that a lot of people will want to read the Minister's reply.

In relation to Senator Connaughton's motion the farm development service is the only authority involved in plans for slatted cowhouses. These plans are to standard specifications and are uniform for the country as a whole. Under the Local Government (Planning and Development Regulations) 1977, planning permission was introduced for agricultural structures. However, a wide range of exemptions are granted where certain conditions are satisfied. The main conditions are that the structure must be less than 400 square metres in extent and be more than ten metres from a public road. Structures for the housing of pigs and poultry must be more than 100 metres from any dwellinghouse and no effluent can be stored within 100 metres from any dwellinghouse except with the consent of the owner. There are no special conditions in regard to slatted cowhouses. Approval for grant aid in respect of buildings under the farm modernisation scheme can be given only where planning permission has been granted or where the conditions for exemption are clearly satisfied. The field staff of the farm development service are fully familiar with these conditions. Accordingly, when dealing with an application in respect of a farm structure the local farm development service officer decides, having regard to all the factors, whether the conditions for exception are satisfied. If so, approval is issued without reference to the planning authority. Where, however, the stipulated conditions are not satisfied and where the officer is in doubt, having regard to certain other aspects of the siting of the structure, he advises the applicant to apply for planning permission. In these cases approval will not be issued until the planning permission is granted with any conditions being imposed by the planning authority clearly specified.

In issuing approvals account must also be taken of pollution control and conditions may be inserted to safeguard against possible pollution from the discharge of animal wastes. The procedure applied by the farm development service in regard to planning control is uniform thoughout the whole country and has worked very satisfactorily. The need for planning permission has arisen in only a minute number of cases and these have not given rise to any particular problems. I assure Senator Connaughton there is no variation within the farm development service in the application of the regulations and no divergence from the local authorities' planning requirements.

Pollution control is an important consideration in the planning of farm buildings. We all accept that. Accordingly, my Department in consultation with the Department of the Environment, have drawn up guidelines to ensure that adequate precautions are taken in the siting and construction of structures for the housing of animals to safeguard against possible pollution. These guidelines are contained in a book entitled Guidlines and Recommendations on Control of Pollutions from Farm Wastes. On the whole the guidelines are reasonable and have met with general acceptance. A large measure of flexibility is expressed in their implementation to suit the conditions and circumstances met at farm level. The requirements for storage and disposal are the minimum consonant with the obligation to ensure that the discharge of animal waste does not lead to pollution.

With these few words I hope that in some way I can satisfy the doubts expressed by Senator Connaughton and that he will find the application of this particular regulation easier to follow. It is accepted by everybody that there has to be a certain degree of control in the siting of those silage pits, slurry tanks and so on. We know the danger that can arise through polluting the environment and we know the hardship it can cause to people who have structures like this síted fairly adjacent to their houses. We have to consider those people just as well as the farmers who are applying for planning permission or applying for grants for the building of those structures under the farm modernisation scheme.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.22 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday 14 May 1980.