‘A rude awakening’ – Villages unite over huge expansion of intensive poultry farming
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Villages are uniting against an onslaught of new intensive poultry farms which are set to produce more than a million chickens every week.
Parish councils in Mid Suffolk are campaigning to raise awareness about a surge in applications to increase chicken production, which they fear will "destroy" communities, damage the environment and bring thousands more lorries to rural roads.
But the industry hit back saying their plans were creating 700 new jobs, investing millions of pounds in the area and reducing reliance on foreign meat imports.
The councils met last month to discuss plans for 19 poultry barns in Horham and Southolt, which together would produce more than 800,000 birds every five weeks.
The proposals are detailed in an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) submitted by Epigs Ltd in April show the barns would be 92m x 24m in size - about the length of a football pitch. They have been met with opposition around lorry movements, odour, ethical concerns and more.
Epigs said it was in the early stages of investigating the sites' suitability and would consider the impact before any planning application was submitted.
But people at the meeting warned more 'mega farms' were on the way - claiming the industry was targeting Mid Suffolk for massive expansion.
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They questioned whether authorities were considering the schemes' cumulative impact.
Mid Suffolk already has more intensive poultry farms per square mile than anywhere in England, according to Environment Agency data.
And since meat giants Cranswick started work on a £75m poultry factory in Eye, which will be capable of processing 1.2m birds per week when it opens next year, four applications have been made for "intensive permits" at nearby farms to increase capacity.
Crown Chicken, which was bought by Cranswick in April 2016, has been granted permits to produce more than 40,000 birds at farms in Brome and Wyverstone.
It also submitted bids in April to expand production in Heveningham and Worlingworth.
Crown said its expansion was down to the new chicken factory in Eye which would provide new jobs and meet shoppers' appetite for British chicken.
Stradbroke Parish Council also raised concerns at the meeting about an anaerobic digester built at Barley Brigg. The digester, which makes energy from crops and waste, has already been built larger than originally permitted and is eventually planned to connect onto the UK gas network.
Although Epigs said it had no connection with the digester, it said its chicken litter would be disposed of at a "nearby anaerobic digester", which villagers have taken to mean Barley Brigg.
Concerns were also raised about the impact of hundreds of HGVs travelling between the sites via rural roads. The poultry barns alone would create 406 journeys every five weeks.
Other concerns centred on the environmental impact of building 19 poultry barns, each around the size of a football pitch, including flood risks and harm to wildlife.
The councils also questioned the economic benefits.
Although the chicken factory is expected to create 700 jobs, the two poultry barns are will only lead to five full-time and one part time position.
Jill Erben, a Southolt councillor who co-chaired the meeting, said villages ought to be aware that they were becoming the "centre of poultry production and intensive farming".
"If we allow it to go ahead it will impact very heavily on all of us," she added.
One councillor said the county was being "totally and utterly destroyed", while another asked: "Do we really need a million more chickens?"
Many villagers were unaware of the scale of proposals and in for a "rude awakening", the meeting heard.
The councils called on authorities to take a more "strategic approach" when considering the applications and their collective impact.
Ms Erben said there was "obviously a large plan at work" and urged communities to be vigilant about developments.
Sue Ives, who is co-ordinating the campaign, said the group needed to reach out to those in positions of power and "hold them to account".
"Someone needs to take responsibility ... to avoid further developments with major ramifications slipping through the net," she added.
Guy McGregor, who represents Eye at Suffolk County Council, has also questioned whether the expansion of rural developments received proper scrutiny.
"I don't want people in 10 years time to be faced with a plethora of intensive developments causing major difficulties and to be asking who was responsible for letting this happen," he said.
Expansion will provide jobs and meet demands
Poultry producers have defended the expansion of operations in Suffolk.
Epigs Ltd said there was "strong demand" for locally produced food.
A company spokesman said while many pig farms had closed, due to cheap imports, chicken production had grown as people switched from 'red' to 'white' meats.
"A multi-million pound investment is currently being undertaken in Eye by a major UK food company in building a poultry processing plant set to employ in excess of 700 people in Suffolk," he added. "This is excellent news for the Suffolk job market and makes economic and environmental sense that chicken for the plant is sourced locally."
Cranswick said: "Our investment in the region will see an increase in availability of British chicken to meet consumer demand as well as supporting the creation of jobs in the local area."
How are intensive applications decided?
Council planners said determining intensive farm applications involved balancing economic benefits with preserving rural life.
Mid Suffolk District Council said while farming was important for the economy, factors such as environmental harm, traffic and noise would also be considered. The council said that while it had not set a limit for the number of intensive poultry farms, it would consult with Environment Agency experts to determine whether an application was acceptable and what pollution control may be required.
The EA, which is responsible for approving intensive farming permits, said it considered regulatory requirements, the use of land as well as the impact of noise, odour and traffic. However it said it did not consider cumulative issues about the wider picture.
Suffolk County Council, which is responsible for the anaerobic digester application, has not commented.