Welsh council admits it should not have approved vast poultry farm

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A local authority has admitted it should not have granted planning permission for a vast broiler unit in the “poultry capital of Wales” after campaigners crowdfunded a judicial review.

Powys county council opposed the legal challenge, brought by activists from Sustainable Food Knighton (SFK). Knighton is a small market town near the border with England.

But the authority has now admitted that permission for the planned 110,000-chicken farm should not have been granted after a high court judge gave the go-ahead for a full judicial review hearing.

SFK said in a statement: “This is a case that is intended to shine a spotlight on the inertia of local and government authorities who have allowed the proliferation to continue unchecked.

“We want the council and our government to change course, take their responsibilities seriously, and fulfil their commitment to supporting farmers to produce food in ways that create meaningful employment and provide good local food at fair prices, without destroying the ecosystems on which we all depend.”

Powys has become a focal point for opposition to the boom in intensive poultry units (IPUs) after freedom of information requests revealed the authority has approved more than 150 in the past five years.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) led calls for a moratorium on intensive poultry farms after discovering Powys had received five times as many IPU applications than the rest of Wales since 2017.

It is estimated there are around 8.5 million head of poultry in Powys – equivalent to 64 birds for every person – the majority on 100 large-scale farms raising more than 40,000 chickens each.

Environmental campaigners say the explosion in IPUs in the county is linked to the deterioration of rivers in Wales.

Last summer saw algal blooms turn the River Wye – which flows from mid Wales through Powys to the Severn estuary – into “pea soup“, a phenomenon damaging to biodiversity which campaigners blame on phosphates from livestock manure running into waterways.

Welsh environment watchdog Natural Resources Wales (NRW) admitted in December that 60% of the Wye failed to meet phosphate targets – but said the high percentage was due to tighter restrictions.

The authority – which granted an operating permit to the farm at the centre of the judicial review – also played down the link between phosphates and IPUs.

“There were concerns that phosphate levels were associated with poultry units, but we have not found a direct connection between the two elements,” said Gavin Bown, head of mid Wales operations for NRW, at the time.

“The reasons for failure on the River Wye and its tributaries are likely to be from a diverse range of sources, including mains sewage and septic tanks, misconnections and agricultural practices.”

Powys county council granted planning permission for two broiler sheds – with a combined capacity of 110,000 – at Llanshay Farm, about a mile south of Knighton, in September last year.

SFK launched its campaign two months later, raising more than GBP5,000 through CrowdJustice to fund a legal challenge.

The campaign group said this week that the council had conceded the application should not have been approved.

It said the authority had admitted there was no evidence before planning officers to support its conclusion that the impact on neighbours would be acceptable because fields were “unlikely to be spread more than twice per annum”.

“In other words it could not be assumed that the spreading of manure in order to dispose of it would not impact adversely on the local population or on people using the local area for recreation,” SKF said in a statement.

“We are still waiting for the final draft order from the court so that costs can be awarded, but essentially this means that the permission for the IPU development is quashed.

“Although the application can still be reopened, this particular issue will have to be addressed along with, potentially, other grounds for objection that the group highlighted.”

Powys wrote to SFK’s legal team on 18 January to confirm it would agree to quash the planning permission.

SFK’s lawyers are now in the process of agreeing a draft court order with Powys which will be submitted to the high court for approval.

Specialist rural planning consultant Ian Pick, who submitted the application on behalf of Llanshay Farm, said: “I don’t believe there’s any fundamental planning policy objection to the scheme. We just need to work through the issues raised in the judicial review and endeavour to overcome them.

“All IPUs are doing is reacting to the demands of the British consumer. They are providing the product that everybody wants and fulfilling the rising demand for white meat and eggs, particularly free range.”

Powys county council said: “Judicial proceedings are still ongoing so it would be inappropriate to comment at this stage.”

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