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'We don't want to live in a sewage farm' - Concern over biogas plant and huge poultry barns

PUBLISHED: 07:30 21 June 2019

The Barley Brigg Farm anaerobic digester near Stradbroke with councillors Chris Edwards and Guy McGregor pictured inset Pictures: ANDREW HIRST

The Barley Brigg Farm anaerobic digester near Stradbroke with councillors Chris Edwards and Guy McGregor pictured inset Pictures: ANDREW HIRST

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Campaigners fear a bid to build huge poultry barns could see tonnes of chicken litter transported through their village to a biogas plant.

The site in Horham where seven poultry barns could be built Picture: ANDREW HIRSTThe site in Horham where seven poultry barns could be built Picture: ANDREW HIRST

Stradbroke Parish Council (SPC) has warned the village could be seriously harmed if an anaerobic digester at Barley Brigg Farm is allowed to take waste from the proposed poultry barns which would produce 800,000 birds a year in nearby Horham and Southolt.

Councillors say the digester, which produces energy from crops, slurry and chicken litter, has already been built larger than originally permitted and accused authorities of allowing major projects to "fly under the radar".

SPC councillor Chris Edwards has urged councils and the Environment Agency to be more vigilant in protecting rural communities.

"We could be facing chicken factories at one end of the village and a power station at the other," he added.

"This has all been foisted on us and due process has gone out the window."

Agents for Rattlerow Farms, which owns the digester, said it was aware of concerns but the poultry barns were separate applications to be determined on their own merits.

Epigs, which is behind the poultry plans has not responded to a request for comment.

Scores of objections to the poultry barns have been lodged with Mid Suffolk District Council, with many focussing on the tonnes of chicken litter which could be transported through Stradbroke to the digester

The digester was first proposed in 2013 as a 500kw biogas project. But developers built it on a site three times larger than permitted, producing more than twice the stated electricity.

An application in 2015 sought permission for what had already built - and added chicken litter to the permitted digester feedstock.

The application went to the waste authority, Suffolk County Council, and was approved that year.

Although developers said there would be no more than 14 lorry movements on any day, villagers claim it has been much more disruptive.

The parish council said vehicle noise was a "constant problem".

It claims a recent application for a barn next to the digester could pave the way for even more disruption.

The "drying barn" application states it will be used for drying crops. But SPC's objection letter said it was a "foot in the door for a much larger scheme by stealth" - and should be dealt with as an expansion to the digester, not a separate application.

Resident Rachel Spurling said in an objection she already suffered "adverse impact from noise, stink and excess traffic" and she believed the barn was just the "tip of the iceberg" for more disruption.

Rosemary Warne said traffic noise could be heard from early morning until past midnight, during harvest season, and complained about the "stench" from uncovered trailers. She criticised planners and farmers for putting profits before countryside management.

SPC raised further concerns about the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) lodged for the 19 nearby poultry barns.

The Barely Brigg Farm anaerobic digester near Stradbroke Picture: ANDREW HIRSTThe Barely Brigg Farm anaerobic digester near Stradbroke Picture: ANDREW HIRST

The barns have attracted dozens of objections on grounds of animal welfare, traffic and noise.

SPC said the 4,000 lorry movements associated with the poultry barns would also have an impact on 200 new homes earmarked in its Neighbourhood Plan. Earlswood Homes, which had been in discussions about delivering 75 of the new homes, said perceptions of pollution, would slash property values by 15%. "Under such scenarios, the Stradbroke Neighbourhood Plan would face some very real delivery challenges," said regional director David Smith.

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Guy McGregor, Stradbroke's county councillor has questioned whether MSDC, SCC and the Environment Agency were doing enough to ensure regulations were not being breached, leading to a "massive sewage farm".

"There's a real risk intensive developments in rural areas are able to expand without proper scrutiny," he said. "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. We need to make sure the full impact of these proposals are properly examined in the wider context."

MSDC councillor Julie Flatman has requested that the drying barn application to be heard by committee, given the public concerns.

It is due to be heard on Wednesday, June 26. The poultry barns have not yet been subjected to a full planning application.

Owners insist plans are not linked

Owners of the anaerobic digester insist the drying barn proposal is a completely separate project.

Although Stradbroke Parish Council claims the drying barns must be considered as an extension to the biogas plant, the agents of Rattlerow Farms said the sites areas are distinct and "cannot confer any linkage".

The agents responded to traffic concerns highlighting Suffolk County Council's transport statement for the application, which said: "There will not be any material increase in vehicle flows at the site access, or on the highway network."

They acknowledged the concerns about the separate poultry barns application, but said they must be determined on their own merits.

Shortly after opening the anaerobic digesters, Rattlerow Farms published an article saying the project would be developed in three stages - eventually producing more than two megawatts of electricity and connecting with the National Grid.

What are authorities doing?

Authorities said they support biogas energy production - but would also work to ensure regulations are followed.

The Environment Agency, which issues permits for such developments, said: "We recognises the benefits of anaerobic digestion.

"An environmental permit or exemption is required for an anaerobic digester.

"We ensure regulations are being followed at AD sites through site inspections and audits."

Mid Suffolk District Council said the various planning applications would be held in public offering a chance for people's views and concerns to be aired.

The council explained the poultry barns were currently subject only to Environmental Impact Assessments, which are scoping exercises, and no planning applications had yet been submitted.

Suffolk County Council did not respond to a request for comment.

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