Powys Intensive Poultry Units Update January 2024

Powys Intensive Poultry Units Update January 2024

There has been huge press and conference coverage of intensive farming and river pollution over 2023, with plenty of focus on the river Wye. This continues with the Observer article on 14/1/24. There has been less publicity about water quality in the Severn, the other great cross-border river, whose headwater catchment area covers the northern half of Powys. There has been much less publicity about the air-quality impacts of intensive livestock farming.

No new applications, approvals or refusals. There have been no new Intensive Poultry applications, approvals or refusals in Powys during 2023. Following requests for “call in” of the 13 outstanding Powys applications for Government determination, the Welsh Government applied “Holding Directions” to all 13, one of which was immediately withdrawn by the applicant. Two call-in requests were from unknown sources: 11 were from the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW). A Holding Direction prevents Powys from giving consent but they can still refuse an application. Further documents can still be submitted by the applicant or other parties. While many of these are displayed on the Powys Planning website, Powys refuses to publish any responses from the general public or eNGOs not considered to be “Statutory Consultees”. Of the 12 remaining Powys applications listed as Planning Decisions being considered by Welsh Ministers, 11 are awaiting sight of the LPA Officer’s Report and one, Upper Maenllwyd, in the Severn catchment, is “under consideration”.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is the primary Statutory Consultee for environmental impacts, responding to planning applications according to their published NRW planning remit. In practice, NRW responses are the main factor in LPA decision-making because following statutory environmental advice protects Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) in case of legal challenge. Approval is almost always granted if NRW is satisfied, regardless of any other issues outside the NRW planning remit but nevertheless within the LPA planning remit. These issues include local nature assets, landscape, traffic impacts, unacceptable odour, impact on neighbouring tourist businesses etc.

CPRW has repeatedly put forward objections to Powys about IPU planning and to NRW about planning responses, addressing them to Planning Leads, Case Officers and NRW Board Members.
Some of our principal grounds have been:

• out of date benchmark ammonia data were allowed;
• past NRW Environmental Permits were allowed as evidence for subsequent planning compliance although planning and environmental permitting are different regimes;
• failure to identify all relevant intensive livestock operations for “in combination” cumulative ammonia impact assessment;
• NRW did not insist on the phosphate analysis required by its own guidance;
• NRW “would object” unless developer manure management and pollution reports were made subject to enforceable Planning Condition, although NRW knew we had established (through FOI) that Powys had never monitored or enforced a single one of these conditions;
• bias, out of date ammonia data and monopoly in ammonia consultancy reports (the majority are from A. Smith Modelling & Data);
• impact on local nature assets not within the NRW planning remit (e.g. Wildlife Trust reserves, traditional meadows, priority species and habitats etc.) were not considered by planners;
• when manure is exported to ADs, there is no guarantee that the digestate will not be spread in the same SAC (Special Area of Conservation) or other catchment at risk.

We have summarised the comments made in NRW planning responses for Powys applications currently under Welsh Government Holding Direction in the linked Summary Table. These show a clear chronological pattern of improved scrutiny, further strengthened after the respective Welsh Government Holding directions were issued. This is evident in a comparison of Cornorian Fawr NRW response with 2022 & 2023 responses. The emphasis in the NRW responses is on impacts of ammonia on designated habitats and nutrient impacts on rivers. From May 2023 onwards, NRW has cast doubt on whether the chain of responsibility for manure and dirty water disposal can be relied on:

NRW is not satisfied that the regulatory regimes covering spreading of manures, or resulting digestate to land, are adequate in preventing discharge of phosphorus to the river environment”
NRW is “not satisfied that… (arrangements/agreements submitted)… would be capable of exerting sufficient control over the fate of the contaminated water to avoid an adverse effect on an SAC”.

NRW has explained that the regulatory gap arises from the failure of the Welsh Agricultural Pollution regulations for water to control phosphorus and of the Environmental Permitting Regulations to control digestate not classified as waste (see 23/1/24 Answer to Wye Nutrient Management Board Page 6).
NRW’s own Mid Wales Area Statement says:
• While ammonia air pollution emissions have generally stabilised across the UK, they have
increased significantly in Mid Wales largely due to this expansion in poultry numbers.
Wales is now one of the largest producers of free-range eggs in Europe.
• This trend is continuing ….
• Ammonia is toxic to native plants and habitats……..
• Urgent measures are required to address this ongoing threat to our natural environmen
According to Future Wales (p78), this issue should be a material planning consideration. We also have clear evidence of ammonia impacts on human health, contributing to toxic PM2.5 particles, even in distant towns.

We are pleased that, at last, NRW has also started to look more closely at nutrients and insist on up to date ammonia data and in-combination assessments, no longer allowing use of previous Environmental Permitting submissions. However there is an in-built problem with ammonia models because Apis (Air Pollution Information Service) figures are always out of date by between 2 and 3 or more years. They are based on a historic three year average and updated at varying intervals. Since ammonia levels have been rising consistently in Mid-Wales we are always assessing the impact of new ammonia sources against background levels which are well below today’s actual levels. For example, Apis figures consulted both in March 2020 and Jan 2021 were based on measured levels from 2016-2018 (so representing midyear 2017): figures consulted in November 2022 cover 2018-2020 (representing midyear 2019): figures consulted after May 2023 cover 2019-2021 (representing mid-year 2020). Today we looking at the figures for 3.5 years ago. NRW requires applicants to take account of any new sources of ammonia emissions added or consented since the quoted Apis consultation date to see how far the modelled emissions from the application would tip background levels at designated sites over the critical risk values. Applicants should have always used the most up to date figures and then searched as far back as the reference years for “new” sources (as the Powys Ecologist pointed out for Upper Bryn IPU application). The accounts of these “new” sources have almost always been flawed. But, even if correctly compiled, these “new” sources will not be sufficient to estimate the current background level. This is because intensive poultry applications are by no means the only ammonia emitting sources and the modelled emissions from shed and outdoor ranges demanded by NRW leave out a significant proportion of the ammonia emitted as a result of operating a new IPU.

There is an additional planning problem because, in 2018, the Welsh Government Chief Planner required planning departments to consider cumulative impacts of intensive livestock units but offered no suggestions how to do this other than a reference to NRW ammonia guidance. The case by case approach has allowed cumulative negative impacts on rivers, soils, landscape, local nature assets, residents’ well-being (health, traffic, odour, vermin, income insecurity) to escalate while Powys Planning, covered by NRW advice, continued to approve more and more IPUs. Even after publishing data on the failing river Wye SAC (Wye SAC Compliance Report), it took NRW from December 2020 until September 2022 to admit to the connection between IPUs and excess nutrients in rivers (Wye Core Management Plan).

Since January, under the Welsh Agricultural Pollution Rules for Water, existing IPUs are no longer allowed to spread nitrogen-containing manure at the rates agreed by NRW when they gained planning permission. What will they do with the excess? Or will they get away with the temporary get-out offer of notifying a crop-need for the excess?

There seems to be stalemate over planning decisions. The Welsh Government web-site says the Welsh Ministers are waiting for Powys officer reports on eleven applications. However Powys apparently regards Upper Maenllwyd (not Wye SAC catchment) “under consideration” as a test case and is waiting for the Welsh Ministers decision (Statement made to Wye Nutrient Management Board 17/1/24 by Powys Planning Lead) before producing reports. In the meantime, NRW recommended refusal of Llwyngwylim in 2022 so why is it still undecided by Powys in January 2024?

• Since mid-2015, when CPRW began to raise concerns, Powys approved 152 separate applications for 5,680,649 more chicken-places.
• 24, out of the 36 of those applications either withdrawn or refused, were resubmitted.
• Since mid-2018, when Welsh Government advised Powys to consider cumulative impacts, another 3,220,000 chicken-places have been approved.
• 12 applications for 718,000 more chicken-places are still in planning (listed in our Summary Table).
• NRW, the body responsible for sustainable management of natural resources, was satisfied by all the applications approved so far.

Too much pollution to air, soil and water. Too little care, too late, for our rivers, biodiversity and future.

What will happen now? CPRW is waiting to see…….