Campaigners warn of 'growing threat' to rural communities - as plans emerge for more intensive poultry barns
PUBLISHED: 11:30 13 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:43 14 August 2019
Fresh fears about the expansion of intensive poultry farming have been raised after further proposals were announced for huge chicken barns housing hundreds of thousands of birds.
Campaigners who were already rallying against two recent bids to build 19 barns in Mid Suffolk say the latest development confirmed their fears over the "growing threat" to rural areas.
MORE: 'A rude awakening' - Villages unite over huge expansion of intensive poultry farming
The proposals would see six 92m x 23m barns built at Castle Hill Farm in Occold, near Eye, housing 288,000 birds for each of the eight yearly "production cycles".
It follows submissions made earlier this year by Epigs for 19 similarly sized barns to be built at two sites in nearby Horham and Southolt, producing 800,000 birds every five weeks.
Developers behind the schemes have highlighted the growing demand for chicken, the jobs sustained by the industry and say concerns can be resolved.
But parishes in the region, which already has more intensive poultry farms per square mile than anywhere else in the country, fear the farms will harm the environment. They formed the 'Save Our Suffolk Countryside' group to fight the proposals.
Plans for the industry's expansion in Mid Suffolk have come 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.
Crown Chicken, which was bought by Cranswick in 2016, is looking to step up production at farms in Brome, Wyverstone, Heveningham and Worlingworth, which it said was to supply the new chicken factory.
The factory, described as "one of the most advanced poultry sites in Europe", is currently being investigated for an alleged enforcement breach.
Mid Suffolk District Council confirmed a breach had been reported and its enforcement team was investigating but could not comment further.
Cranswick was not available for comment on the alleged breach.
Although the company has previously defended its growth, highlighting the 700 new jobs to be created at the factory, as well as the need to meet shoppers' increased demand for chicken, campaigners have questioned whether the scale of growth can be achieved without harm.
A spokesman for the Save Our Suffolk Countryside group said: "We all live in farming communities and we support our local farmers but these are not farms, they are industrial scale factories and they have no place in our small villages and Suffolk's rural landscape."
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Their concerns include potential environmental issues around noise, odour and pollution, as well as increased vehicle movements serving the sites.
Villagers in Stradbroke also raised concerns about the growth of the Barley Brigg anaerobic digester. 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.
Environmental Impact Assessments for the Horham and Southolt poultry barns said chicken litter would be disposed of at a "nearby anaerobic digester", which villagers have taken to mean Barley Brigg, meaning more lorry movements.
The latest proposals for Occold, which are also detailed in an EIA scoping request, identifies several "key issues" to be addressed including odours, increased traffic and waste handling.
The EIA says the issues are either not significant or can be addressed. It says the "need for development" is to create modern production facilities for the landowner replacing an older and now defunct facility. The EIA also highlighted the rise in chicken consumption in the UK.
An agent for Castle Hill Chicken Ltd added: "Concerns relevant to planning will of course be addressed through the submission of the requisite information in any forthcoming planning application."
Campaigners say they are keen for authorities to consider the full impacts of the proposals in combination. "This latest poultry shed enquiry is yet more evidence of the growing threat to our communities and countryside here in Mid Suffolk," a spokesman for Save Our Suffolk Countryside said. "As well as new enquiries, we also know of the expansion of existing poultry sites, to produce hundreds of thousands more chicken than they did before and in shorter timescales."
The group has upcoming meetings with MSDC. "We hope that they will do everything they can to support our communities and protect our countryside," the spokesman added.
MEP warns of intensive farming's environmental impact
One of the region's MEPs has called for greater investment in sustainable farming and an end to intensive practices in response to a major report on climate change.
Green Party MEP Catherine Rowett said the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report showed intensive farming was one of the key drivers of climate change.
Ms Rowett said factory farming was "unjustifiably cruel" and had a "disastrous impact" on the environment, which cannot be afforded at a time of "climate change emergency". "Instead of associating East Anglia with barbaric mega-barns, we should be supporting the small scale and free range farms that have sustained life in our region for millennia," she added.
The National Farmers Union said the IPCC recognised the important role animal products play in a balanced diet, and when produced sustainably was part of the solution to climate change.