Sedgemoor District Council is failing to take enforcement action to shut down the broiler units containing up to 312,500 factory-reared chickens at Newbridge Farm, near Highbridge in Somerset, despite being advised by an expert Planning Consultant that the facility, owned by Amber Real Estate Investments, is unauthorised. The Planning Consultant, who specialises in broiler units, has challenged procedural and technical aspects of the decisions taken by the Council. She has identified many discrepancies and has written to them, citing legal precedents, advising that the site is unauthorised on the basis that the buildings are not built to plan; there is no building regulations approval; and that the breach of the condition relating to the light-coloured ‘goosewing grey’ roof colour is so substantial that it renders the whole permission invalid. 

The Environment Agency is also failing to take formal enforcement action to curb the unacceptable levels of odour and bio-aerosols being emitted from the facility despite the operator, Hook 2 Sisters, being in breach of its Environmental Permit since January 2017. The complaints made to the Environment Agency's incident hotline about the odour have been substantiated as Category 2 breaches of the environmental permit, Category 2 being the second highest where non-compliance could have a significant environmental effect.

Local residents and tourist-dependent businesses relying on the Somerset countryside, which are being adversely impacted by the chicken farm, as well as people who object to the conditions in which the factory-reared chickens are grown, are gaining momentum to protest against the facility. The ‘Fowl Play in East Huntspill’ campaign is seeking support to raise awareness of and help overcome this multi-faceted environmental and planning travesty; it recently launched a petition against Sedgemoor District Council to declare the site as unauthorised in the hope it will cause it to be shut down.

Sedgemoor District Council is failing to take enforcement action to shut down the broiler units containing up to 312,500 factory-reared chickens at Newbridge Farm, near Highbridge in Somerset, despite being advised by an expert Planning Consultant that the facility, owned by Amber Real Estate Investments, is unauthorised. The Planning Consultant, who specialises in broiler units, has challenged procedural and technical aspects of the decisions taken by the Council. She has identified many discrepancies and has written to them, citing legal precedents, advising that the site is unauthorised on the basis that the buildings are not built to plan; there is no building regulations approval; and that the breach of the condition relating to the light-coloured ‘goosewing grey’ roof colour is so substantial that it renders the whole permission invalid. 

The Environment Agency is also failing to take formal enforcement action to curb the unacceptable levels of odour and bio-aerosols being emitted from the facility despite the operator, Hook 2 Sisters, being in breach of its Environmental Permit since January 2017. The complaints made to the Environment Agency's incident hotline about the odour have been substantiated as Category 2 breaches of the environmental permit, Category 2 being the second highest where non-compliance could have a significant environmental effect.

Local residents and tourist-dependent businesses relying on the Somerset countryside, which are being adversely impacted by the chicken farm, as well as people who object to the conditions in which the factory-reared chickens are grown, are gaining momentum to protest against the facility. The ‘Fowl Play in East Huntspill’ campaign is seeking support to raise awareness of and help overcome this multi-faceted environmental and planning travesty; it recently launched a petition against Sedgemoor District Council to declare the site as unauthorised in the hope it will cause it to be shut down.

Authorities hesitant to take action against owner and operator of Newbridge Farm for breaches of planning permission and environmental permit

Authorities hesitant to take action against owner and operator of Newbridge Farm for breaches of planning permission and environmental permit

Odour

The main impact of the intensive farming of broiler chickens at Newbridge Farm is the odour – it cannot be understated. Depending on wind direction, the stench of over 300,000 chickens’ faeces and ammonia is inescapable. At best, it is an unpleasant background smell; at worst, it can cause nausea and vomiting. It can prevent people from enjoying their own outside space, such as not being able to do gardening, hanging out their washing, walking children to school, or even having to cancel a barbecue with friends and family. The smell can also get into people’s homes; having to keep your windows shut in 30°C temperatures is no fun. Since the redeveloped site has begun operating, one lady’s COPD has become worse and she now has to take double her medication. There are two primary schools within 1½ miles of the site, one of which has, on one occasion at least, kept children inside the school building during play time because of the odour. People in or visiting the area are also unable to enjoy the local countryside, such as walking their dogs along the lanes and footpaths near the site. In comparison to the spreading of cows’ muck and the dredging of the many drainage ditches in this area, this smell cannot be considered to be a ‘normal countryside’ smell. 

Odour

The main impact of the intensive farming of broiler chickens at Newbridge Farm is the odour – it cannot be understated. Depending on wind direction, the stench of over 300,000 chickens’ faeces and ammonia is inescapable. At best, it is an unpleasant background smell; at worst, it can cause nausea and vomiting. It can prevent people from enjoying their own outside space, such as not being able to do gardening, hanging out their washing, walking children to school, or even having to cancel a barbecue with friends and family. The smell can also get into people’s homes; having to keep your windows shut in 30°C temperatures is no fun. Since the redeveloped site has begun operating, one lady’s COPD has become worse and she now has to take double her medication. There are two primary schools within 1½ miles of the site, one of which has, on one occasion at least, kept children inside the school building during play time because of the odour. People in or visiting the area are also unable to enjoy the local countryside, such as walking their dogs along the lanes and footpaths near the site. In comparison to the spreading of cows’ muck and the dredging of the many drainage ditches in this area, this smell cannot be considered to be a ‘normal countryside’ smell. 

What are the impacts of the chicken 'farm'...?

What are the impacts of the chicken 'farm'...?

Financial

Apart from the loss of amenity and impact on well-being from these issues, the value and saleability of residents’ properties will have inevitably decreased - by at least 10-15% according to one recent valuation. Several tourist-dependent businesses near the site are suffering loss of income from reduced bookings because of the chicken farm issues. One camping club has decided not to return after holding its annual rally for five consecutive years because one of its members was physically sick from the odour in 2017. 

Financial

Apart from the loss of amenity and impact on well-being from these issues, the value and saleability of residents’ properties will have inevitably decreased - by at least 10-15% according to one recent valuation. Several tourist-dependent businesses near the site are suffering loss of income from reduced bookings because of the chicken farm issues. One camping club has decided not to return after holding its annual rally for five consecutive years because one of its members was physically sick from the odour in 2017. 

Animal welfare

For some people, the knowledge that intensive poultry farming is being undertaken on their doorstep is morally unacceptable and deeply disturbing. These places are the antithesis of good animal husbandry. The chickens are grown over an accelerated 6-week period, growing so quickly that they are often unable to stand up under their own weight. Many birds are trampled and die; these and poorly birds are ‘thinned out’ to allow space for the other birds to grow in size. During each ‘crop cycle’, the birds’ faeces accumulate in the litter, along with the dander and dust, with the sheds not being cleared of the litter until all the birds have been taken away for slaughter elsewhere. This is why the odour and potential bio-aerosol levels increase over the duration of each crop cycle. People are now experiencing unacceptable levels of odour for 4-5 weeks of each 7-week crop cycle (including cleaning out and waste removal).

Animal welfare

For some people, the knowledge that intensive poultry farming is being undertaken on their doorstep is morally unacceptable and deeply disturbing. These places are the antithesis of good animal husbandry. The chickens are grown over an accelerated 6-week period, growing so quickly that they are often unable to stand up under their own weight. Many birds are trampled and die; these and poorly birds are ‘thinned out’ to allow space for the other birds to grow in size. During each ‘crop cycle’, the birds’ faeces accumulate in the litter, along with the dander and dust, with the sheds not being cleared of the litter until all the birds have been taken away for slaughter elsewhere. This is why the odour and potential bio-aerosol levels increase over the duration of each crop cycle. People are now experiencing unacceptable levels of odour for 4-5 weeks of each 7-week crop cycle (including cleaning out and waste removal).

Traffic

The operation at Newbridge Farm has brought about a big increase in heavy vehicle traffic. Large trucks bring in the chicks at the beginning of each ‘crop cycle’ and, at the end of each cycle, a fleet of HGVs takes away the waste litter and the chickens for slaughter. In between times, contractors are driven to and fro to undertake work there because there is no one employed on site. Because of the weight restriction on a railway bridge, there is only one route to the facility that takes the vehicles through East Huntspill village, past the primary school, on fairly narrow country roads.

Traffic

The operation at Newbridge Farm has brought about a big increase in heavy vehicle traffic. Large trucks bring in the chicks at the beginning of each ‘crop cycle’ and, at the end of each cycle, a fleet of HGVs takes away the waste litter and the chickens for slaughter. In between times, contractors are driven to and fro to undertake work there because there is no one employed on site. Because of the weight restriction on a railway bridge, there is only one route to the facility that takes the vehicles through East Huntspill village, past the primary school, on fairly narrow country roads.

Visual & wildlife

The visual impact of the five huge sheds gives the impression of a large factory in the middle of the Somerset countryside, visible from the M5 motorway as well as local roads. Many of the existing native trees and bushes have been thinned out by the site owner, causing the site to be more visible and potentially harming the habitat of local wildlife. The site owner is planning to ‘screen’ the site with over 500 non-native Leylandii conifers, which would be completely out of character and could introduce non-native species to the area.

Visual & wildlife

The visual impact of the five huge sheds gives the impression of a large factory in the middle of the Somerset countryside, visible from the M5 motorway as well as local roads. Many of the existing native trees and bushes have been thinned out by the site owner, causing the site to be more visible and potentially harming the habitat of local wildlife. The site owner is planning to ‘screen’ the site with over 500 non-native Leylandii conifers, which would be completely out of character and could introduce non-native species to the area.

Health

Then there are the undetectable emissions, the potential health hazards from the bio-aerosols such as E-coli, campylobacter, salmonella, fungi, etc., that are pumped out of the sheds without any filtration. These were highlighted as a specific concern for nearby residents by Public Health England (PHE) in response to the Environment Agency’s consultation for the Substantial Variation application in the summer of 2016. However, the Environment Agency has effectively ignored PHE’s concern; they have not insisted on the fitting of any form of filtration on the ventilation system.

Health

Then there are the undetectable emissions, the potential health hazards from the bio-aerosols such as E-coli, campylobacter, salmonella, fungi, etc., that are pumped out of the sheds without any filtration. These were highlighted as a specific concern for nearby residents by Public Health England (PHE) in response to the Environment Agency’s consultation for the Substantial Variation application in the summer of 2016. However, the Environment Agency has effectively ignored PHE’s concern; they have not insisted on the fitting of any form of filtration on the ventilation system.

Chicken 'farm' timeline

Chicken 'farm' timeline

May 2009 – Hook 2 Sisters acquires the existing four-shed chicken farm at Newbridge Farm from Lloyd Maunder Limited, with an approved capacity for 122,750 broiler chickens. 

June 2010 – Environment Agency approves Hook 2 Sisters application to vary their Environmental Permit to increase capacity to 160,000 birds in the four wooden sheds.

August 2011 – Amber Real Estate Investments Ltd applies to Sedgemoor District Council for permission to demolish the four wooden sheds, redevelop the site and replace the sheds with five much larger ones. Despite the close proximity of residential properties, residents were not specifically informed or consulted about the proposal.

November 2011 – Sedgemoor District Council grants planning permission to Amber Real Estate Investments on the basis that the “…development will not cause unacceptable levels of noise or odour…”; adding eight specific conditions, including prohibiting the applicant from using the light-coloured ‘goosewing grey’ roofing material they proposed to use and to use a darker colour.

March 2016 – local residents, unaware of the redevelopment, hear the noise of the old sheds being demolished and groundwork being undertaken. Material from the old sheds containing asbestos is distributed locally for disposal – potentially without the proper permits or facilities.

May 2016 – Hook 2 Sisters applies for a substantial variation to their Environmental Permit to increase the capacity at the redeveloped site to 312,500 broiler chickens.

June 2016 - Amber Real Estate Investments Ltd applies to Sedgemoor District Council for a Hazardous Substances Consent to hold 46,800 litres of liquid propane gas (LPG) in 18 tanks. Despite the close proximity of residential properties, residents were not specifically informed or consulted about the proposal (12 tanks were installed).

August 2016 – The Environment Agency signs-off the substantial variation to increase the number of birds to 312,500.

March – September 2016 – the five new sheds are constructed with the light-coloured ‘goosewing grey’ material that was specifically prohibited by a condition of the planning permission, not to plan and without the required Building Regulations.

October 2016 – the site starts operations.

November 2016 - Sedgemoor District Council grants Hazardous Substances Consent for 46,800 litres of LPG.

January 2017 to present day – Local residents regularly report unacceptable levels of odour of chicken faeces and ammonia being emitted from the site to the Environment Agency’s incident hotline. Environment Agency staff substantiate complaints and put it down as a Category 2 breach of conditions (the second highest level); no formal enforcement action has so far been taken.

February/March 2018 – The ‘Beast from the East’ weather system causes a period of Easterly and South-easterly winds that provides respite to people in East Huntspill but people in the village of West Huntspill and the towns of Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea are impacted by the odour instead, leading local media to publish articles about it and its impact on the wider community.

April 2018 onwards - The site owner fits vanes to the existing ventilation stacks; the operator stops stocking Shed 5 and reduces the overall number of birds to 192,000; and specialists also adjust the ventilation system, all in an attempt to reduce the odour nuisance. However, the odour nuisance persists and complaints continue to be made to the EA's incident hotline.

May 2009 – Hook 2 Sisters acquires the existing four-shed chicken farm at Newbridge Farm from Lloyd Maunder Limited, with an approved capacity for 122,750 broiler chickens. 

June 2010 – Environment Agency approves Hook 2 Sisters application to vary their Environmental Permit to increase capacity to 160,000 birds in the four wooden sheds.

August 2011 – Amber Real Estate Investments Ltd applies to Sedgemoor District Council for permission to demolish the four wooden sheds, redevelop the site and replace the sheds with five much larger ones. Despite the close proximity of residential properties, residents were not specifically informed or consulted about the proposal.

November 2011 – Sedgemoor District Council grants planning permission to Amber Real Estate Investments on the basis that the “…development will not cause unacceptable levels of noise or odour…”; adding eight specific conditions, including prohibiting the applicant from using the light-coloured ‘goosewing grey’ roofing material they proposed to use and to use a darker colour.

March 2016 – local residents, unaware of the redevelopment, hear the noise of the old sheds being demolished and groundwork being undertaken. Material from the old sheds containing asbestos is distributed locally for disposal – potentially without the proper permits or facilities.

May 2016 – Hook 2 Sisters applies for a substantial variation to their Environmental Permit to increase the capacity at the redeveloped site to 312,500 broiler chickens.

June 2016 - Amber Real Estate Investments Ltd applies to Sedgemoor District Council for a Hazardous Substances Consent to hold 46,800 litres of liquid propane gas (LPG) in 18 tanks. Despite the close proximity of residential properties, residents were not specifically informed or consulted about the proposal (12 tanks were installed).

August 2016 – The Environment Agency signs-off the substantial variation to increase the number of birds to 312,500.

March – September 2016 – the five new sheds are constructed with the light-coloured ‘goosewing grey’ material that was specifically prohibited by a condition of the planning permission, not to plan and without the required Building Regulations.

October 2016 – the site starts operations.

November 2016 - Sedgemoor District Council grants Hazardous Substances Consent for 46,800 litres of LPG.

January 2017 to present day – Local residents regularly report unacceptable levels of odour of chicken faeces and ammonia being emitted from the site to the Environment Agency’s incident hotline. Environment Agency staff substantiate complaints and put it down as a Category 2 breach of conditions (the second highest level); no formal enforcement action has so far been taken.

February/March 2018 – The ‘Beast from the East’ weather system causes a period of Easterly and South-easterly winds that provides respite to people in East Huntspill but people in the village of West Huntspill and the towns of Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea are impacted by the odour instead, leading local media to publish articles about it and its impact on the wider community.

April 2018 onwards - The site owner fits vanes to the existing ventilation stacks; the operator stops stocking Shed 5 and reduces the overall number of birds to 192,000; and specialists also adjust the ventilation system, all in an attempt to reduce the odour nuisance. However, the odour nuisance persists and complaints continue to be made to the EA's incident hotline.

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