The RSPCA has called for animal welfare issues to be considered when local authorities decide planning applications.
Widespread interest in so-called mega-farm proposals meant animal welfare should be a “material consideration” within the planning system, said the charity.
RSPCA chief executive Mark Watts has written to communities secretary Eric Pickles calling for welfare to be brought into the planning process. The letter calls for welfare to be considered in planning applications for livestock farms, kennels and catteries.
“Every year the RSPCA receives hundreds of letters from members of the public regarding planning applications that include the housing of animals,” said Mr Watts. While local authorities accepted comments regarding animal welfare, planning departments were currently unable to turn down an application on those grounds.
Including animal welfare as a material consideration would ensure all applications were handled consistently – whether for a five-dog kennel or a 3,000-cow farm. The move could also help planning authorities analyse the factual basis of claims made by opponents to large-scale planning applications, said Mr Watts.
It would help ensure generalisations about large, medium or small-scale farms in terms of animal welfare are avoided.
Mr Watts said he expected such planning decisions to become more prevalent as sectors of the farming industry sought to expand in a bid to remain viable. High-profile applications so far have included a bid by Nocton Dairies for a 3,370-cow dairy herd in Lincolnshire.
Despite no legal requirement to do so, the farmers behind the Nocton proposal included a welfare and management statement in the planning application. This included detailed information on accommodation, management principles, welfare standards, staffing and disease control.
The Nocton application faced widespread opposition from animal welfare campaigners. It was withdrawn earlier this year on environmental grounds.
At the time, Nocton director Peter Willes said animal welfare was top of the agenda because dairy farms could only be efficient if welfare was good.
“Cows need to live long lives and be healthy to deliver the best results, so it really is in our best interests to ensure cows are physically and mentally at their peak.”