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Agenda item

22/00167/FUL - Astmans Farm Poultry Unit, Maisemore

PROPOSAL: Erection of 2 No. additional poultry houses with air scrubbing units and associated infrastructure on established poultry farm (resubmission of 21/00870/FUL)




14.30        This application was for the erection of two additional poultry houses with air scrubbing units and associated infrastructure on established poultry farm (resubmission of 21/00870/FUL).  The Planning Committee had visited the application site on Friday 15 July 2022.

14.31        The Planning Officer advised that the application site was located to the east of the A417, approximately 700 metres north-west of the settlement boundary to Maisemore.  The site lay within Flood Zone 1 and comprised a broadly rectangular parcel of land within the northern part of a larger field parcel, sloping down to the south-east.  The site presently comprised two poultry units and this proposal sought to expand the existing number of units with the erection of a further two poultry sheds and associated infrastructure which would be located to the west of the existing units.  The proposal would be broadly compliant with Policy SD1 of the Joint Core Strategy and Policy AGR1 of the Tewkesbury Borough Plan in respect of employment and agricultural development.  Whilst the proposal would result in some landscape harm through the introduction of built development, it was considered that the buildings would be of an appropriate design and siting in relation to the site boundaries and adjoining development.  The site presently operated under an Environmental Permit issued by the Environment Agency and a variation had been applied for to allow for the proposed development.  Concerns had been raised in respect of odour and pollution from the existing development; however, unlike the existing units, the proposed buildings would be fitted with air scrubbers and the Council’s Environmental Health Officer was satisfied those measures would be appropriate to contain odour and particles from the new development.  Should any unacceptable impacts arise in breach of the Environmental Permit, the Environment Agency would have the powers to enforce and seek appropriate remediation.  Whilst the proposal would double the capacity of the site, there would be no unacceptable impact upon drainage, highway safety, ecology or heritage matters.  It was therefore recommended that the application be permitted, subject to conditions.

14.32        The Chair invited the representative from Maisemore Parish Council to address the Committee. The Parish Council representative referenced the 55 page response which had been submitted by the Parish Council in relation to the application which he hoped Members would have read – this included 18 pages of analysis and around 30 objections submitted to the Council in respect of the very similar application in 2021 which was withdrawn and resubmitted.  The Parish Council representative did not intend to go through all of the points raised in the document and instead would focus on recent experiences of the present facility.  The Parish Council representative subsequently read out a series of comments from people living further away from the facility than the receptor properties cited in the application as follows: A resident at Woolridge posted on social media on 10 July “I most definitely have concerns about the poultry sheds.  I have written to Tewkesbury planning council and spoken to the environment agency officer when they came to the village hall.  On the hottest two days of the year I’m having to close all my windows and doors because of the disgusting smell from those poultry sheds and I’m not even that close!  I have complained to the environment agency, it’s really unfair that the enjoyment of my home and village is spoiled by that horrible stench”; extract from an extensive commentary from someone living in the main part of the village “Article 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998 says: Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions.  No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principle of international law.  There is a good argument to say that the stink from the chicken sheds deprives a number of people of their peaceful enjoyment of their possessions, i.e. their residential property in that it causes them to stay indoors behind closed windows and also that, to an extent, these people are deprived of those possessions in that the value of their property has been reduced because of the lack of amenity resulting from the stink.  It can therefore be argued that the public interest in allowing the stink not only to continue, but to increase must be significant and demonstrable; and any assessment of the degree and frequency of that stink must be made on the basis of qualitative evidence”; another complaint from Saturday evening from someone living in the main part of the village: “Hottest day of the year so far, no breeze whatsoever, we have all doors & windows open now the sun’s gone, & the chicken farm is absolutely stinking!! It’s disgusting.  How do we complain about it & to whom??”.  The Parish Council representative went on to make reference to a resident living in one of the receptor properties who had an agreed offer for their house but the buyer had pulled out after reading comments on the earlier 2021 application – as a consequence the house had gone back on the market and eventually sold for £25,000 less.  The Parish Council therefore requested that the application be refused and the Parish Council representative stated that the existing facility was bad enough so he urged Members not to make it worse.

14.33        The Chair invited the applicant’s agent to address the Committee.  The applicant’s agent advised that the current cost of living crisis was putting pressure on food prices and the Government had actively encouraged British famers to increase food production at a price the consumer could afford to pay.  The UK was currently only around 65% self-sufficient in chicken meat and the proposed development would increase the supply of home produced chicken and reduce the need for imports.  The UK poultry farming welfare standards were higher than the rest of the world with imported chicken produced to a lower standard.  This application had been through the full consultation process and no objections had been received from the technical consultees – County Highways, Natural England, Lead Local Flood Authority, Environment Agency, Conservation Officer, Environmental Health Officer and the County Archaeologist.  The applicant’s agent acknowledged that the application had generated a small amount of local opposition, mainly from Maisemore Parish Council and five members of the public.  The objections essentially related to the potential for odour impacts from the development; however, it should be noted that complaints often confused odour from the poultry farm with that of general manure spreading activity in the countryside.  An application for an Environmental Permit for the development was running concurrently with this application and that was dealt with by the Environment Agency which had requested that air scrubbers be added to the proposals to mitigate odour impacts.  As such, the application included air cleaning systems on both the new sheds which removed odour, ammonia and dust from the expelled air.  Put into context, the cost of the air scrubbing system was approximately £150,000 per shed.  The Environment Agency had confirmed under the permit application that it would keep the site under review and, should any odour issues arise post development, there would be provision within the permit to require the applicant to retrofit air scrubbers to the existing sheds.  The applicant’s agent stressed that Paragraph 188 of the National Planning Policy Framework stated that, if issues were controlled by a separate planning regime, the Local Planning Authority should take the view that the permit would operate effectively.  The application had an Officer recommendation of permit and the applicant’s agent respectfully requested that planning permission be granted.

14.34        The Chair indicated that the Officer recommendation was to permit the application and he sought a motion from the floor.  A Member asked whether any complaints had been made to the Environment Agency or the Council’s Environmental Health team in relation to the poultry unit.  He noted that the number of poultry units had been restricted originally and he asked for clarification as to the reason for that.  In response, the Planning Officer advised that the Environment Agency had confirmed that 105 complaints had been received between June 2020 and July 2022; 14 complaints had been received during the period 18 January to 18 July 2022.  The Environment Agency had attended and monitored the site on several occasions.  In terms of the previous application, the two sheds permitted were as applied for; there had been landscape concerns at the time which had subsequently been resolved.  The Member noted that the representative from Maisemore Parish Council had made reference to a number of complaints, one of which had quoted the Human Rights Act 1998, and he proposed that the application be refused on the basis of the contravention of human rights as odour was denying residents enjoyment of their own properties.  As he understood it, odour was at its worst during the three days of the 48 day cycle when the chickens were being removed from the units.  With regard to the comments made by the applicant’s agent in respect of the Environmental Permit, in his view this was not a consideration for the Planning Committee as it was outside of its remit.  The Legal Adviser explained that the Human Rights Act 1998 was mentioned in the Committee report and was always in the background; however, the substance of the concern was an amenity issue in relation to odour which did not need the back-up of the Human Rights Act.  She provided clarification that the Environment Agency would deal with the odour issues under separate legislation so it would be difficult to refuse the application on such grounds.  The Planning Officer indicated that the Environment Agency had advised that a variation of the Environmental Permit was likely to be permitted in August; this was out of sync with the planning application due to resource issues.  A Member raised concern that the planning application could potentially be granted prior to the Environmental Permit and the Planning Officer explained that, in the event that the Environmental Permit was not granted by the Environment Agency, the site could not be operated so the assumption was that the applicant would not build the units. 

14.35        With regard to the complaints received, a Member asked whether these were from different individuals or if someone could complain multiple times and what the Environment Agency views had been when it had attended the site.  In response, the Planning Officer indicated that it was unclear whether the complaints were individual and he did not have the results from the Environment Agency’s attendance at the site; however, if it was determined there were issues with operation of the site, the Environment Agency did have enforcement powers under the permit scheme and could request additional measures such as fitting air scrubbers to the existing units.  A Member raised concern that the applicant’s agent had played down the level of complaints which was unfair to residents.  In her view it was obvious there was an issue and, whilst she appreciated that Members needed to determine the application before them, it was clear there were problems with the existing units so she found it hard to understand how the Environment Agency could raise no objection to the current proposal if it accepted there were already issues currently.  She felt conflicted as it was difficult to assess the application without taking into consideration the existing problems residents were facing.  She further noted that the spreading of manure on fields seemed to add to the odour coming from the poultry units themselves.  The Planning Officer explained that the cumulative effect had been covered through the submitted details which had been assessed by the Council’s Environmental Health Adviser who raised no objection to the applications.

14.36        The proposer of the motion to refuse the application indicated that he was happy to take the Legal Adviser’s advice in respect of the reason for the refusal and proposed that the application be refused due to the impact on amenity with regard to odour.  This proposal was duly seconded.  Upon being put to the vote, the motion to refuse the application fell.  It was subsequently proposed and seconded that the application be permitted in accordance with the Officer recommendation.  The proposer of the motion to permit the application indicated that he had attended the Planning Committee Site Visit and personally had not detected any odour, although he appreciated he may not have been in the right position.  He could see no reason for the application to be refused; nevertheless, if any issues did arise, the Environment Agency had the ability to refuse the Environmental Permit, or to take enforcement measures once it had been granted, therefore, it was not a concern for the Planning Committee.  A Member pointed out that she had also been on the Planning Committee Site Visit and the wind had been blowing from behind so it would not have been possible to smell any odours from the poultry units. 

14.37        A Member recognised that the Environment Agency was the reporting body in terms of complaints but he questioned if there was a process in place for these to be referred to the Council’s Environmental Health team for investigation and, if so, what the outcome had been.  The Planning Officer reiterated that, as the site operated through an Environmental Permit, the Environment Agency became the reporting body and any reports made to Tewkesbury Borough Council would be passed to the Environment Agency for consideration; the Council’s Environmental Health team did not get involved. 

14.38        A Member went on to draw attention to Page No. 204, Paragraph 7.30 of the Committee report which stated that it was considered that the inclusion of air scrubber units for the additional poultry houses would reduce odour from the buildings though the overall odour emissions from the site would increase.  Another Member noted the requirement for the new units to be fitted with air scrubbers and felt, if that was deemed necessary, it should also apply to the existing units – he understood this could not be included as a condition but asked that it be discussed with the Environment Agency.  Another Member raised concern that, despite the complaints that had been received over the last two years, there were no reports on the investigations carried out by the Environment Agency so there was no indication as to whether these were justified.  The Planning and Enforcement Team Leader (South) explained that Planning Policy Guidance and the National Planning Policy Framework set out that, if another body controlled and enforced environmental issues – in this case the Environment Agency – it should not be for the Local Planning Authority to enforce its own conditions or requirements.  If there were any existing issues, it was within the Environment Agency’s gift to withdraw the Environmental Permit or take remedial action.

14.39        Upon being put to the vote, it was

RESOLVED           That the application be PERMITTED in accordance with the Officer recommendation.

Supporting documents: