Free-range farm buyout from opposing community group

A community group submitted an application to the Scottish Executive in February to buyout land from an egg producer if planning permission for the world’s largest free-range unit is turned down.

The Blyth Bank Action Group (BBAG) was set up in 2005 by the residents of four villages in Peeblesshire to oppose John Campbell’s plan to build a free-range unit in West Linton. The group is made up of about 70 people.

Under the Scottish Parliament’s Community Right to Buy Scheme, the Langstruther Community Enterprise, a “subgroup” of the BBAG, has registered interest in buying the land if it goes on sale.  This means that they will have first option on the land, for five years, if it goes on the market.  The agreement is renewable after the five year period ends. 

The enterprise proposes to create a wildlife, educational, tourist attraction on the site.  They also aim to convert existing buildings into a hostel for backpackers and long distance horse riders, holiday cottages, workshops for local craft people and office space. 

Doreen Graham, chairman of BBAG, told Poultry World that the Langstruther Community Enterprise “evolved” from BBAG and now includes members of BBAG alongside business people.  

The enterprise put forward a business plan to the Scottish Executive and Glenrath Farms in February.  Mr Campbell has passed it onto his lawyers.  Once Mr Campbell has responded to the initial application, it goes back to the Scottish Executive before the Community Right to Buy application is placed in front of ministers in the Scottish Parliament. 

Mr Campbell aims to build 11 multi-tier sheds in the Langstruther Valley, to house 275,000 free-range birds.  The dimensions of each shed would be about 160 x 15 x 6m (525 x 49 x 20 ft).  He submitted a planning application on 3 November 2006 with an environmental impact assessment (EIA).  But BBAG argued that the EIA, commissioned by Mr Campbell for £30,000 plus, was “worryingly lacking in information” and “a lightweight response”.

BBAG secretary, Viv Thomson, said: “The EIA should have allayed the fears of the local people regarding potential damage to the environment, tourism, the local rights of way, pollution, flooding, smell and many other concerns.  Instead of allaying fears, it set alarm bells ringing.  The EIA fails to detail the rich and diverse wildlife on the Blythbank Estate.”

Mrs Graham added that the group was particularly concerned that the development would be irreversible.
Mr Campbell told Poultry World that he was “absolutely surprised” when he received the proposal which he described as “a very professional document”. 

“Clearly our position is that if we don’t get planning permission here, then we’ll have to look elsewhere and sell the land,” Mr Campbell stated.  But he put forward the question: “Is it profit that is motivating the group to oppose the planning application so vigorously?”

Mrs Graham argued that the enterprise is “extremely optimistic” that if the land is put on the market that the group will be able to purchase it because individuals from the group have already “pledged money”.

Mr Campbell’s planning application is still being processed.  But he claimed that he was very “hopeful” that the planning application would go through.  “We can see no reason why we shouldn’t be approved,” he said.

Planning application history for Blythbank Farm

– Mr Campbell purchased Blythbank Farm, 1300acres (526ha) of agricultural land, in October 2004 from the Roslin Institute.
-The local council approved the first application for one shed on 31 August 2006. 
-Mr Campbell submitted a second application for 10 sheds on 3 November 2006.
-The 11 multi-tier buildings would house 275,000 birds.

Police and fire officers attended a fire at a partially constructed shed on 21 January, at the first of Glenrath Farms’ 11 proposed multi-tier sheds, Hamiltonhall, West Linton. 

The incident occurred at 9.30pm at the end of a three-day exhibition organised by the opposition group, Blyth Bank Action Group (BBAG), at West Linton Visitor Centre.  Doreen Graham, chairman of BBAG, denounced the attack.

A Lothian and Borders Police spokeswoman said: “Part of the difficulty is that the farm is in an isolated, rural location so there was no passing trade or locals nearby.”  The fire authority has stated that the likely cause of the fire was arson, said John Campbell. 

Staff Sergeant at Hawick, Helen Birrell, said: “It is inconclusive as to the cause of the fire.  The Police are treating the incident as suspicious.  Enquiries are ongoing and the investigation is not finalised yet.  The Police are appealing for any witnesses.”

Nobody was injured in the fire and there were no birds in the shed.  A full fire investigation and door-to-door questioning was carried out at the surrounding farm cottages.

Mr Campbell has also received life threatening phone calls, which were reported to the police before the fire.