ELF has been assisting a community in Bideford, Devon where a large industrial dairy farm of 1,000 cows, all held in holding bays with no outside access, has over the last few years been established in close proximity to a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) without all the necessary permissions being obtained.
Local residents have been concerned for many years about the negative environmental and health impacts on the local area of such a large intensive farming operation.
Following numerous pollution events being linked to the farm in question, in 2011 the Environment Agency (EA) investigated another pollution incident which resulted in a prosecution – see here
Whilst investigating, the EA also discovered that there was insufficient slurry storage capacity at the farm. Using their Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil (SSAFO) powers, the EA advised the farmer to increase the storage capacity, which was duly done. A one hectare slurry lagoon was constructed; however planning permission was not sought or obtained.
The local authority having resisted increasing pressure from local people, after nearly four years of unregulated development, last year, decided to invite a retrospective planning application and issued an enforcement notice against the unregulated development of the lagoon.
The farm itself is in the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the lagoon lies approximately 235 metres at its nearest point from the Tintagel Marsland Clovelly Coast SAC and Marsland to Clovelly Coast SSSI.
Of particularly biological interest, the SAC is noted for its lichens: “The Atlantic oak woods in North Devon are nationally significant for their lichen interest. Bryophytes and lichens are among the UK’s most important contribution to international and especially European biodiversity”.
The siting of the farm and lagoon so near to these sites, bearing in mind that the farm produces vast amounts of waste, has been found to have potentially damaging effects on the nature sites, not least from the ammonia produced.
Natural England (NE) required a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) which concluded that significant effects could not be ruled out from the waste holding lagoon and therefore permission should be refused. NE has also objected to the retrospective application in untypically strong terms. However, despite the unregulated nature of the development, and assessed damaging effects we are told that the local planning authority (LPA) is minded to approve the retrospective application.
A matter that has recently transpired is that the HRA was not carried out by an ecologist because the LPA no longer has one. A robust response from the applicant has forced the LPA to agree to undertake a new HRA, employing an external ecologist. This is deeply disappointing for the community and undermines the position of the LPA. The loss of expertise at a local authority level is troubling at a time when unrelenting pressures upon our countryside and wildlife are growing.
ELF has been working with the community and ELF chambers member, Stephanie Hall of FTB to unravel the legal challenges of a highly complex planning situation in an attempt to provide the local community with the best chance of opposing the retrospective application.
It soon became clear that through the incremental unregulated evolution of the intensive farming operation and the lack of action taken by the LPA, that this was a far more complex situation than at first appeared. We are continuing to work with Stephanie to assist the community.