‘Enormous’ changes to Nocton Dairies plans promised

ONE of the farmers behind the Nocton Dairies project has revealed that ‘enormous changes’ have been made to the plans in response to local and national concerns.

The company, which withdrew plans for an 8,100-cow unit in Lincolnshire earlier in April, is expected to resubmit a much-changed application imminently.

Nocton director Peter Willes has urged critics of the project to hold fire until they have seen the revised plans.

“We originally withdrew the application to address various environmental aspects,” Mr Willes, a Devon farmer, said.

“What we didn’t realise was that it would take quite so long to finalise all the details – but that’s testament to how hard the Environment Agency, the council’s environmental health department and other consultees have worked on examining our work, and everyone should gain confidence from their attention to detail.  

“We stress that we’ve taken on board people’s concerns – particularly those of local residents, some of whom have taken up invitations to visit our farms and discuss the issues in detail.

“As a result this plan has changed enormously from the original.”

In a thinly veiled attack on pressure groups opposed to the project, Mr Willes added:  

“When it’s resubmitted in the near future, we hope everyone will take a detailed look at it and weigh it up on its own merits rather take the word of single issue pressure groups, who seem to be basing their arguments on the old application and fairly radical assumptions.”

He said the revised application would include a focus on welfare outcomes, reduced carbon footprint and improved sustainability.

“This is why it’s important that arguments for or against the dairy aren’t based on fiction, but are founded on the facts and objective, not selective, science,” he said.

The company has already revealed some changes to the original plans, including the provision of loafing areas to give cattle outside access for parts of the year, deploying the anaerobic digester from the start and measures to reduce the risk of local water pollution.

Concerns about the project were raised a number of times during Defra questions in the Commons on Thursday (November 4).

Labour MP Nic Dakin challenged Farming Minister Jim Paice to ‘urgently review’ the welfare code for UK dairy cows to ensure new dairies, like Nocton, ‘do not compromise cow welfare’. This was in light of research indicating that genetic selection to produce high yields was ‘the major factor causing poor welfare in dairy cows’.

Tory MP Zac Goldsmith asked Mr Paice if he shared the concern of small farmers that ‘plans to build a mega-dairy in Nocton will fatally undermine the viability of a great number of small and family farms’.

Mr Paice said Defra ‘puts welfare at the top of our agenda’ and would be ‘guided by science’, including the results of a three-year study in Scotland on intensive dairy farming, and work at Harper Adams University College on the same issue.

He pointed out that the Farm Animal Welfare Council had advised Defra ‘clearly that welfare is a function more of management than of scale’.

He said it was ‘good news that somebody thinks that the dairy industry is worth investing in, given that so many dairy farmers have given up over the past few years’. “I genuinely believe that there is huge scope for reclaiming much of our domestic market, which has been lost to imported dairy products. If through expansion and greater efficiencies we can do that, there will be room in the industry for both large and small producers,” he said.

Readers' comments (37)

  • I believe these concessions are only being made because of the immense pressure brought to bear from the many specialist consultees, supported by public objections and campaigns in the local and national media.
    If the UK is to embark on adoption of intensive-type dairying similar to that in the USA, it is only right and proper that these planning applications are considered extremely carefully.
    Hopefully there will now be a much improved communication and consultation phase to go with these plans, before they are finally put before the Planning Committee of North Kesteven District Council.

    This is a very positive result arising from the proactive campaign against the original plans, which appeared so flawed at the time, lacking the necessary detailed evidence to answer the many open questions.

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  • Interesting that Mr Willes uses the Farmers Guardian to talk about "Enormous changes." Why is it then that Nocton Dairies has not contacted or consulted local people earlier about the proposed enormous changes? I bet that Nocton Dairies new tactic will be to resubmit revised plans just in time for Christmas in the hope that objectors will have other issues on their minds.
    The UK does not need USA style factory farms and certainly does not need advice from the American agricultural fraternity whom we are lead to believe are advising Nocton Dairies. Gordi et-al!
    Start dialogue with the locals now Mr Willes and Mr Howard and take your arguments to the country. Let us know about the potential use of public money and associated grants. Let us know about the changes that have been made. Let us know who is actually backing this venture. Let us know how sure you are that your business model will work for the good of the average UK dairy farmer. Let us know that you can guarantee that there will no environmental impact. Let us know that in the future you will not adopt retrospective planning like those applied at your existing dairies. I could go on but I am sure that you get my drift!
    David Reay

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  • I fear that Zac Goldsmith is correct.
    The advent of the superdairy will 'fatally undermine the viabilty of a great many small and family farms'.
    Its bad enough having the supermarkets ripping us off but now our farming leaders seem hell-bent in their support of a farming system that will do irreparable damage to our dairy farms.
    Its time for dairy farmers to stand up and protect our livelihoods and our future from this threat.

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  • If Mr Willis is that positive about his new application, why has he refused to participate in a very civilised debate organised by a local radio?

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  • Ditto, geoff, ditto (definately) David, ditto anonymous and ditto villager.

    Glad to see Willes is up to his old tricks again.... and what a support NKDC have been to him!!! Amazing - what support have we had from NKDC or is this Willes stirring again.. By the way when are Nocton Dairies and NKDC going to tell the local residents about these 'enormous' changes? Do they include a reduction in the number of cows being milked? If not, then we are back to the same old, same old. This is a PR stunt because....hello guys...from the beginning the major problem with this proposal apart from environmental, animal welfare, water consumption etc has been...TRUST. How do we trust someone who says one thing to one person, another to someone else and now has proposed enormous changes only really because ...let's face it...they had to. Totally rubbish about caring for the opinions of local residents - you have never given a jot about our feelings or concerns - this is purely about paying lip service to advice to get these plans pushed through. I repeat again - this is about TRUST. Can we trust these changes will be adhered to? Can we ever trust that surreptitious amendments to planning will not happen on the quiet? Can we trust the arrogance of these three money making 'farmers? No - it's too late the damage has been done and Mr Willes and co, you only have yourselves to blame. Honesty , openness and transparent dialogue with the local comminutities from the start would have probably meant a smoother path but no you wanted these plans to go through in an underhand and secretive way. You are now stuck with acres of land you don't know what to do with!! Whoever was it who advised you in the beginning ? I have asked this question before and haven't received an answer. I am assuming they were sacked.

    Whatever changes occur it is now too late - the damage has been done. I don't trust you and your partners-in-grime, I don't want this farm and I do not believe it is the way forward for the dairy industry, especially our local dairy farmers. So go back to Devon and expand your farm there. Oh yes what about that? Why is that not happening? .....and therein lies a whole new series of questions!!!

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  • Excellent PR work - but the devil as always will be in the detail ... changes were forced upon the developers because local landowners voted with their feet and the environment agency objected. I'm guessing we're looking at a halving of the numbers with a programme of restrospective planning applications to follow - judging by Willes record in Devon.

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  • I await the revised application with baited breath - in fact, I've been waiting for nearly 8 months now!
    It is very sad that we are in this situation - that anyone who objects to Nocton Dairy's plans is called a "bully", that locals are accused of misleading propoganda, and that divisions are being caused in local villages. The reality is that local people have spent considerable amounts of time and energy putting together a very well researched case against this proposal. That they have the backing of the world's largest animal welfare charities, environmental groups and many MPS speaks volumes.
    There has been no consultation with the people this plan most affects, and any information we have received has been, at best, 'sketchy'.
    There have been various box-ticking exercises such as the so-called Liaison Group (which lasted for 2 meetings!) and some half-hearted attempts at public meetings - all in an attempt to satisfy the requirements of the planners.
    I was one of the locals who visited Mr Barnes' operation in Lancashire. What I saw there broke my heart, and I am saddened that this could be the future of British dairy farming. I am outraged that the public have been sold the image of "cows in a field" & are then blamed for not being aware of modern farming practices. It is not our fault.
    However, it is heartening to see that many people are now waking up to what is really going into their supermarket trolley - and perhaps we consumers can make a difference.
    The British public have decided that they do not want their milk produced in this way - so perhaps Nocton Dairies ought to listen.

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  • Willies & Co really must think we have all come up the Witham on a banana boat, changes eh? Start with a reduced number of cows and just keep sliding in the odd thousand or two when you are up and running, no one will notice, credit us with a bit more 'common' than that! I have an idea for a 'change', go back to Devon and let the land be used for arable again!

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  • I am sure the local residents have done a great job to ensure the environmental requirements will be met in this next proposal. However I (and a number of other dairy farmers) have met with a lot of negative comments from the public about the way we keep our cows. I milk 130 cows and keep them indoors as much as I can,( as my grazing is limited). In the summer I let them have the choice and most of the days they stay in to eat the TMR (balanced feed which meets their requirements) . I am in the process of applying to put up a new shed and milk 200. I am struggling to make ends meet financially with 130 and the extra cows will pay for some help so my family can see me now and again. My facilities are old and the cubicles too small for the modern day cow. Already I am receiving negative comments from locals and planning officials as I propose to keep them indoors. I do not blame you for doing your best to protect your local environment, but at the same time you have dragged down our industry and are damaging mine and others chances of keeping it alive.

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  • I do feel sorry for Martin, however how does he think he is going to survive if he has to compete with this type of mega dairy? The price of milk is very likely to be driven down further.
    On the cow subject, I come from a farming background, and weather permitting I have never witness cows wanting to remain indoors when the weather was clement.
    We have not damaged your industry, the Nocton Dairies farmers have done this by insisting on putting 8100 cows yards away from dwellings, by running the risk of polluting our water and damaging the health of villagers. We as villagers have also to survive this onslaught, and as you justly stress out protect our environment.

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