Controversial plans for 210,000-bird chicken farm rejected by planning committee

Controversial plans for an intensive chicken farm housing 210,000 birds have been thrown out over pollution concerns.

Protesters gathered ahead of the meeting.
Protesters gathered ahead of the meeting.

Councillors on Shropshire Council’s southern planning committee went against the advice of officers and refused permission for the scheme at Footbridge Farm in Tasley, Bridgnorth, citing concerns over the smell and ammonia pollution.

The refusal marks a triumph for campaigners who have been fighting the proposals since they were first lodged four years ago – though councillors were warned that the authority would find it difficult to defend the decision at an appeal.

The council initially approved the development back in 2017, but a judicial review brought by a member of the public ultimately led to the planning permission being quashed by the Court of Appeal in 2019, after first being dismissed by the High Court.

It was the appeal court’s view that the applicant’s environmental statement did not adequately address concerns over odour resulting from the proposed spreading of manure on nearby fields.

At a meeting on Tuesday, the planning committee heard that two significant changes had been made to the application in the wake of the ruling.

Planning officer Kelvin Hall told members that the applicant, Matthew Bower, was now proposing to take all manure off-site to be processed, and that ‘air scrubbers’ would be used in the four chicken sheds to reduce ammonia and odour.

Mr Hall said it was accepted that the scheme would lead to a small increase in ammonia levels at nearby protected wildlife sites but the council’s ecology team had concluded this would be “unlikely to cause significant adverse effects”.

Under the plans, the access track to the farm would cross over an area designated to form part of the ‘Tasley Garden Village’ in the council’s new local plan, which is expected to be adopted next year, and the farm itself would lie in an area earmarked as the ‘future direction of growth’.

Mr Hall told the committee that if and when the garden village plans come to fruition, the chicken farm would cease operating before occupation of the first homes.

Councillor George Edwards of Tasley Parish Council spoke at the meeting against the development, saying the farm was “simply in the wrong place” due to its proximity to both the village and the town of Bridgnorth.

A statement from Bridgnorth Town Council was also read out, saying: “The applicant has not demonstrated robustly that the proposal would result in no unacceptable adverse impacts as required by [planning policy].”

Councillors Les Winwood and Julia Buckley, who represent Bridgnorth West and Tasley, took turns to address the committee.

Councillor Winwood said: “This isn’t ‘nimby-ism’ – this sort of development should not take place in anyone’s back yard.

“I have not found a single resident of Tasley or Bridgnorth that supports this application and its position that will affect so many residents for many years to come if allowed in this semi-urban area.

“The disposal of litter and its destination was the issue that caused the original application to be quashed. The final destination of litter is still not clear.

“So much is unanswered, so much is still up in the air and undecided, and there is much community concern over health issues.”

Councillor Buckley said there were no intensive poultry units (IPUs) in Shropshire that lay so close to the boundary of a major town, with the proposed site situated 700 metres from the edge of Bridgnorth and just 400 metres from a proposed development of 550 homes currently being determined.

Ian Pick, agent to the applicant, told the committee that improvements had been made to the plans since the Court of Appeal decision to “fully address” the issues identified.

He said: “The judicial review found fault with one aspect, which was in relation to the odour and dust impacts in relation to the spreading of manure. The planning policy now is exactly the same as the planning policy was back in 2017, so there is no reason why this decision would be any different.”

Mr Pick added that the scrubbers, at a cost of £150,000 for each of the four sheds, were a “major benefit”, as they would remove 91 per cent of ammonia as well as up to 40 per cent of the odour.

Councillor Andy Boddington said the scheme was “incompatible” with the council’s aspirations for the Tasley Garden Village.

He proposed refusal on the grounds of the site’s close proximity with existing and planned housing developments and the impact of odour on residents – including the residents of the Grade II-listed house The Leasowes, less than 300 metres away.

He further said the anticipated increase in ammonia at the nearby Thatchers Wood and Westwood Covert site of special scientific interest (SSSI) could not be justified, as ammonia levels are already almost 2.5 times higher than desired maximum levels.

Seconding the proposal to refuse, Councillor Richard Marshall said he had sympathy with the residents of The Leasowes, whose “lives would be made an absolute misery” if permission was granted.

Before the vote, the council’s planning manager Tim Rogers warned members that the authority would find it difficult to justify the decision if the applicant were to appeal – and that it would most likely be left to committee members themselves to explain their reasoning to an inspector.

Despite this, five members voted in favour of refusal while two abstained.

Ahead of the meeting campaigners had gathered outside Shirehall to protest against the proposal.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Nicky Squire of the Tasley Action Group said: "We are really hoping the protest will work, and that members of the committee will listen. This has been going on for long enough.

"It is about stopping a planning application that is wrong, and in the wrong place.

"I do support farmers and British farming, but not in this way."

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