Environment Agency delivers blow to Nocton Dairies
THE Environment Agency has objected to Nocton Dairies’ plans for a 3,770-cow ‘super dairy’ in Lincolnshire.
The agency’s stance comes as a blow to the developers as they had gone to great lengths to get the agency on board after it objected to their original proposal for a 8,100-cow dairy near the villages of Nocton and Dunston.
The company’s revised plans, submitted to North Kesteven District Council in December, included a number of amendments intended to provide reassurance on its main concern, the potential risk of groundwater pollution.
These included the use of ‘molecularly-welded polyethylene pipes guaranteed for 50 years’, rather than old irrigation pipes, to pipe effluent to nearby farmland and the use only of on-site lagoons, purpose built to minimise the risk of leakage, to store digestate and liquid effluent on-site.
But in its submission to the council’s consultation on the planning application, published on Monday, the Environment Agency states: “We object to this application as submitted because the proposed development would pose an unacceptable risk of pollution to groundwater.”
It explains that the site is located on the Lincolnshire Limestone which is classified as a ‘Principal Aquifer’, an ‘important source’ for the local area.
“The Lincolnshire Limestone is a highly fractured aquifer and lacks protective drift geology. This means pollutants could travel quickly to the groundwater below,” the agency says.
In a detailed 2,200-word statement, it says that in environmental terms, a dairy unit would not normally be considered ‘high-risk’. “However, we consider that in this location the production, handling and conveyance of large volumes of slurry and digestate (slurry following treatment by anaerobic digestion) immediately on top of an un-protected aquifer presents a significant risk to the water environment,” it says, adding that the 3,770 cows will produce more than 80,000 m3 of digestate each year.
The agency states that in 2009, the dairy industry was responsible for 324 pollution incidents in England, a quarter of all reported farming related incidents.
“We note that this development proposes a higher standard of engineering than is traditionally seen on smaller dairy farms. However, the statistics show that numerous incidents are caused by human error (for example a valve left open) or unforeseen circumstances (for example tank overflow following high rainfall),” it says.
“We agree the risk of groundwater pollution can be reduced at the design stage. However, it is reasonable to assume there will be pollution incidents associated with the day-to-day operation of the proposed dairy. We consider these risks are unacceptable at this location.”
It adds that Nocton Dairies’ Environmental Statement (ES) ‘lacks adequate information to demonstrate that the risks posed can be satisfactorily managed’.
A Nocton Dairies spokesperson said the developers would seek to ‘clarify’ the points raised by the agency. “We are aware of the Environment Agency’s response and are in the process of clarifying a number of points raised. This is a completely normal part of the planning process, of which we are still in the fairly early stages,” she said.