Getting planning permission for a new poultry unit or replacement shed often requires an Environmental Impact Assessment.

Securing planning consent for a new poultry shed can seem a bafflingly complicated and drawn out process. One example is the environmental impact assessment.

However, EIAs are not necessarily bad news. Sometimes, the resulting statement or screening opinion can prove valuable in helping the process, says Brian Barrow of planning consultant Acorus.

“Considering in advance what a statement should include is a good discipline in producing a well thought out application. If used properly, the EIA procedure can help you design the development. For example, it could save you money by identifying an alternative site.”

The scale of some proposals for poultry units means reaction from planning officers and the public can initially be negative. However, a well put together environmental statement based on sound evidence can help dispel some of their fears.

The Town and Country Planning Regulations 1999 set out the types of development which may need an environmental statement, which is the document produced as a result of a full EIA.

The size of a unit is usually the key aspect determining whether an EIA is needed. Developments are classed either as Schedule 1, requiring a full environmental statement, or as Schedule 2, where a statement is needed in some cases.

Developments that fall under Schedule 1 are those intensive units with more than 85,000 places for broilers or 60,000 places for hens.

“You can’t get round these thresholds by doing a series of piecemeal applications because the authority can consider cumulative proposals,” warns Mr Barrow.

Other units, including free range, generally fall into Schedule 2 with a guidance threshold of more than 500sq m of floor area. An EIA can only be requested by the local authority for these units if significant environmental effects are anticipated, for example those near a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) or a lot of housing.

“There can be differences of opinion as to whether a full statement is needed for some Schedule 2 cases. We have had several cases where the local authority maintained initially that a full statement was needed and then we managed to change their mind. You shouldn’t be bullied into providing a statement unless you have to.

“In general, local authorities will balance what is needed against the size and scale of the development.”

If you need to produce a full environmental statement, then ask the Local Authority for a scoping opinion. This is a guide as to what to include in your statement and the authority has up to five weeks in which to respond.

Local authority responses vary widely. Sometimes, they ask for more than is necessary, says Mr Barrow, but if you are going to argue with the terms of the opinion, you need to be well prepared.

Others will accept your own list or may amend it slightly.

If there is doubt as to whether your proposal comes within the requirements, then ask the Local Authority for a screening opinion as to whether a full environmental statement is needed.

“I would do this before you apply for planning permission because if you submit your application and it is then needed, it will mean you have lost time and sometimes means you give any opposition more time to prepare its argument,” says Mr Barrow.

The local authority has three weeks in which to respond to a screening opinion request. If you do not agree with the opinion, you can either negotiate with the LA or appeal to the regional government office.

Where a full statement is needed, it will typically have to provide information on several aspects of the development (see panel). It needs to document the condition of the site before development, what effect the development has on the area and what is planned to mitigate that effect. You may also be asked to consider whether any alternative sites or systems are more suitable.

As part of the EIA process, certain interested parties will automatically be consulted by the Local Authority for their comments, for example the Environment Agency.

“Alongside the statement you have to produce a non-technical summary which a layman could understand,” says Mr Barrow.

When a full environmental statement is needed, this can extend the timescale in which a planning decision is made from the usual eight weeks after the date the application is registered to 13 weeks.

Most producers who need to put together a full environmental statement will need professional help with this.

What areas should an impact assessment cover?

• Airborne pollution: This includes noise, dust and odour during construction and operation of the unit. Also consider noise from vehicles and feed bins. “Some local authorities like scientific back up such as odour plume analysis, which models emissions and the way they are likely to travel.” These can help show that the impact will be less than public opinion might expect.

• Water and disposal: This should cover dirty water, washings and solid waste storage capacity and disposal methods.

• Clean water: Consider rainwater recovery and whether the flow of any run-off that occurs might damage or flood nearby watercourses.

• Landscape: The visual impact of the development will be one of the biggest local concerns. You need to think not only about the height and appearance of buildings, but also of feed bins. Addressing likely concerns at an early stage means that your statement can demonstrate how landscaping and careful choice of materials will minimise the impact on its surroundings.

• Highways: How many vehicles, their size, timing and frequency of movement will be the key issues, but their origin and destination must also be considered, says Mr Barrow.

While local residents and neighbouring businesses may be interested, it will mainly be the concern of the Highways Department.

• Ecology: This links with both water and air and is mainly concerned with the ecology of the site itself. However, emissions or depositions from poultry units can affect sites further afield. Ammonia outfall and deposition will probably be the biggest issue, warns Mr Barrow. “While this can be modelled, the science is not 100% robust.”

Typically, the impact on any SSSI within 2km must be considered together with other sites of ecological significance.

Assessing the ecological impact of a development is an area where costs can mount quickly, as it requires an expert, says Mr Barrow. “So when you get a scoping opinion from your local authority, this is an area you should study carefully and challenge if you have good grounds for thinking it is not necessary.”

• Archaeology: The impact on any archaeological site of interest must be clear and such sites may not just be those in the immediate area.

Case study

Anthony Watchorn’s local authority decided that his second free-range layer unit at Loodal Farm in Rutland fell within the scope of Schedule 2 for EIAs.

This meant drawing up a full environmental statement, but Mr Watchorn only discovered this after putting in his first planning application for the unit in 2004.

Like many, he was surprised that a 16,000 bird free-range unit needed a full environmental statement. Where a unit does not breach the numbers rules which determine automatically that a full statement is required, local authorities have discretion as to whether to ask for one. In this case, the grounds were the potential noise, lorry movements, flies, feed bins and smells.

free range unit

His application eventually went to a two-day public inquiry after being turned down for a second time. The unit was completed in June 2006.

Producing an EIA statement was expensive but straightforward, says Mr Watchorn. The statement initially cost around £5000, but another £700 in costs was added when the local authority requested an archaeological report.

Apart from the cost of producing the statement, the only additional expense which it prompted was the alteration of an existing pond to create a soakaway pond. No changes were required to the proposed building.

“I couldn’t have argued planning permission without the statement, but at the end of the day, I feel that it didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know,” says Mr Watchorn.

He cautions others considering new poultry units to get good advice on EIA issues early on, before applying, to keep costs and delay to the minimum possible.

Want to know more?

Acorus – www.acorus.co.uk

The Planning Directory – www.theplanningdirectory.co.uk

Planning Portal – www.planningportal.gov.uk

Regional Government office – www.gos.gov.uk/national