Pig farmers with the means to invest in improved facilities are increasingly being blocked at the planning stage. Digby Scott looks at the issues, and moves to try and remedy the situation
Getting planning permission for new pig and poultry housing is becoming increasingly difficult for producers. Local residents are worried about smell, traffic, noise, pollution and the destruction of the rural landscape; and increasingly their fears are fuelled by pressure groups.
The NPA’s Lizzie Press has found that a growing amount of her time is taken up with planning problems. “The term factory farming’ is thrown at us regularly,” she said. “Even a straw-based, naturally ventilated building for fewer than 2,000 finishers is now labelled a factory farm by opponents.”
Local residents’ opposition to new pig buildings is often driven by fear and ignorance, she said. “There’s a huge disconnect between the general public and farming. They have no concept or understanding of what modern agriculture looks like.”
Single-issue pressure groups are becoming increasingly vocal over planning matters. Recently the Soil Association issued a press release claiming that Midland Pigs’ proposed unit in Derbyshire would expose local people to the difficult-to-treat bacterium MRSA.
Lizzie’s advice to pig producers planning to put up new buildings is to engage at an early stage with the Environment Agency, the local planning officer and local residents.
“Consider holding a meeting for concerned residents to talk them through your plans,” she advised. “You do need to keep them informed of what’s happening because their fears are driven by ignorance.”
The NFU and the NPA are currently working on pig and poultry guidance that will be aimed not only at producers, but also local authorities and planning committees, so that when they are lobbied on MRSA, for example, they have accurate and robust information to hand.
The growing difficulty in getting planning permission for pig and poultry farms will also be raised in Parliament via the All Party Parliamentary Group for Pigs and Poultry.
When the Soil Association raised what it claimed were serious public health questions for planners considering proposals for Midland Pigs’ new unit at Foston, it revisited a Dutch study that claimed DNA of livestock-associated MRSA strain ST398 was found more frequently and in higher concentrations near intensive pig and poultry farms.
In response, the NPA made the following points: the Soil Association’s press release was deliberately misleading as MRSA ST398 is not present in the British pig herd; the research referred to by the Soil Association was conducted in the Netherlands, Germany and United States (US), countries with intensive pig production techniques not comparable to farming practices in Britain; in the US in particular, most commercial pig farms house over 50,000 pigs and employ different production systems; and the density of livestock in Britain is not comparable to the density of livestock, pigs in particular, in the Netherlands, Germany and US.
In conclusion, the NPA said the Soil Association’s use of research papers was “selective and dangerous”.
The NPA has also explained to planners that the proposed pig unit at Foston will employ advanced air-filtering techniques that weren’t available when the overseas research quoted was conducted.
“The Soil Association’s concerns are effectively invalid,” the NPA added. “It’s not in a position to acknowledge the excellent technology proposed for the Foston unit which, if granted permission, will act as a global showpiece of good practice.”
Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish recently wrote to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson highlighting the planning problems of one of his constituents.
“The purpose of my letter was to highlight the problems farmers are having in obtaining planning permission,” he said. “There appears to be so many objections from local residents, and the planning authorities are extremely slow in processing the applications.
“Furthermore the cost of an application can be as much as £100,000.”
In his letter Mr Parish stressed the need for good-quality, high-welfare pig production in England, “and yet it’s very difficult to get planning permission even for the most modern pig units,” he said.
Mr Parish urged Defra to make far stronger statements to planning authorities and committees to help farmers achieve planning permission for new units.