CPRW Brecon & Radnor Branch Press Release 2nd July 2020: Powys, chickens, rivers and wildlife – a summary of 5 years of campaigning

CPRW Brecon & Radnor Branch Press Release 2nd July 2020: Powys, chickens, rivers and wildlife – a summary of 5 years of campaigning

Through this work, CPRW has learnt to expect the worst.  There are now nearly 10 million (9,900,499) chicken-places applied for in Powys and more coming.  The Welsh Government 2019 statistics say there are only 7.2 million intensively farmed chickens in the whole of Wales. Numbers matter because chicken excrement on this scale threatens rivers with manure run-off and plant-biodiversity with ammonia emissions.

In the past five years:

There have been 156 applications (not counting withdrawn applications) = 5,591,149 chickens

139 applications have been approved = 4,526,149 chickens …….. & only 1 certain refusal.

7 have been approved in June 2020 = 288,000 chickens

23 approvals were voted through by the Planning Committee.  One Committee member has his own IPU.

116 were decided by a Planning Officer under “delegated powers”. 

Since January 2020, it seems unlikely that any more will go to Planning Committee (except that of the Committee member who is seeking to extend conditioned traffic hours).

Of the 156 applications in the past five years, there have been 5 refusals but  4 have been resubmitted. One of these has been refused again on highways grounds: one has been approved: 2 are waiting.

Altogether,  there are 21 awaiting determination = another 1,316,00 chickens

Powys Planning shuts, locks and bolts the door.

Powys Council Planning Department has retreated into a bunker. A series of drastic measures have excluded the public and cut their link with planning through publicly elected representatives. Virtually all decisions are delegated to a handful of officers who just can’t say “no” whatever the cumulative environmental insult.

CPRW began to get wise to this when we held a public Seminar Day “Ponds, Rivers and Poultry” in October 2016. The event was chaired by eminent freshwater ecologist, Prof. Steve Ormerod, from Cardiff University. NRW and many conservation organisations gave presentations.  We invited the industry, farmers, Herefordshire and Powys (Officers and Councillors), environmental NGOs and everyone interested.  Of these, only Powys, custodian of intensive poultry development, was absent.

We learnt that Powys officers and councillors had been advised not to attend in case they became “pre-determined” i.e. learnt something about the ecological problems from scientists and experienced experts.

When the Powys public thought the Officers were deaf to their representations about planning applications, they started writing to Planning Committee Members only to find that our elected and salaried representatives have been forbidden to read letters from the public about any application which will come before them.  Legal precedent suggests this may be an unlawful suppression of democracy.

In late 2018, Powys decided that third-party representations on planning applications would no longer be published on their website.  The excuses were that redacting personal data and data entry were too costly and that Powys had been already been reprimanded by the Information Commissioner so could not risk incurring astronomic fines for breaking data-protection regulations.  An FOI revealed that the Information Commissioner had only issued mild reminders to take more care in future. We thought our Council should learn how to comply with Data Protection Regulations, like all the other surrounding Councils who manage to publish representations. Public accountability should not be sacrificed because of institutional ineptitude.

Instead of clicking on a planning file at home, people from up to 60 miles distant had to travel to an appointment in Llandrindod Wells to read the representations and sometimes the documents were still not available at the appointed time.   Then we were told the representations could be requested by email.  This is unsatisfactory because no-one knows whether more representations will come in after making a request.  Nor, in practice, is it fulfilled in a timely manner  – or even at all.  Nor does it solve the problem for the many people who do not use computers. 

When the yearly review for this policy came up in December 2019, hundreds of local people signed  a petition to re-establish third party representations on the planning web-site.  We wrote repeatedly to the CEO, Head of Planning, the two intervening Managers and the Portfolio Holder asking for the opportunity to present the petition and discuss the situation with them.  We are still waiting for a response.

In late January,  the 2 Powys branches of CPRW had a meeting with the Head of Planning about the reluctance of Planning Officers to screen intensive poultry applications as having Environment Impact Assessment status (EIA is a detailed assessment of likely environmental impacts and how they will be avoided or addressed).  Given any discretion, case officers invariably decide intensive livestock farming applications are not worthy of EIA status but projects over certain number-thresholds have automatic EIA status by law.  The constitution used to ensure EIA applications went to open Planning Committee Meetings, for debate and vote by elected representatives.  A member of the public could speak for or against the application.

Three months later we noticed an EIA application for a 200,000-bird broiler unit in Montgomeryshire had been approved by the case officer under ‘delegated powers’.  We were sure there must be some mistake but we found out that in January, before our meeting with the Head of Planning, the Constitution had been changed so that EIA applications are now decided ‘in-house’ by officers.  We looked at the papers for the two Powys Committee meetings needed to ratify this change and concluded that the Councillors who voted it through  probably didn’t understand what they were doing.

There was still the opportunity to ask for a contentious application to be referred to a Planning Committee Meeting but meetings were suspended during Covid-19 lockdown.  We started to worry that there might be rush of approvals for the 27 outstanding intensive chicken farm applications during lockdown.  On May 22nd we requested the third-party representations for these applications in order to explore local concerns. We were told this would take “a number of weeks”. Six weeks later, we have received nothing (2/7/20).

For some applications it is too late because six more sites, with 288,000 more chickens, have been approved in June.  One site is an EIA application for 100,000 chickens, split into two parts. Another application was approved the day after we asked the Welsh Government to review the EIA screening.

During this rash of approvals, the contribution of upstream intensive chicken farms to the deteriorating state of the river Wye has hit the local and national press headlines (County times, Brecon and Radnor Express, Sunday Times, Observer, Daily Mail).

No-one except the Planning Officers will ever see the countless,  well-researched representations sent in by environmental organisations, local experts and the general public about the impacts of too many industrialised intensive poultry units on our rivers, biodiversity and rural lives.   Do the Planning Officers  actually read them?  Who knows?  They rarely address the important planning points raised by public responses in their reports.  The Officer’s Report for one planning application said there had been no­ objections from the public even though we had acknowledgment of receipt of our objection.  

Powys has shut the door on the public and, at the same time, on the fate of our environment, the living conditions in rural Powys and the well-being of future generations.

[Revised November 2020]