Nocton farmer in hot water over giant slurry lake

THE Devon farmer, who was at the forefront of unsuccessful plans to build a large-scale dairy unit at Nocton, now faces another fight on his own doorstep.

Peter Willes, who owns North Devon cheese business Parkham Farms, has built a huge slurry lagoon, near the South West Coast Path, at Beckland Farm, near Hartland, without planning permission.

The lagoon, 300ft long by 150ft wide, can hold 29,000cu.metres of farm slurry – the equivalent of 11 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Last year he applied for permission to build a 31,200cu.m slurry lagoon on a different part of the farm. In October that application was withdrawn, having attracted a number of objections, and in December work began on constructing the new lagoon, for which retrospective planning permission is now being sought from Torridge District Council.

The council was told last year the farm, which lies in the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and in a Coastal Protection Area, had a herd of 1,000 Holsteins. At that time it had the capacity to store slurry for only six weeks – 10 weeks short of the minimum set down by the Environment Agency. The new lagoon will have the capacity to store slurry for six months.

A council spokesman said the retrospective application would be ‘considered in due course’.

Hartland Parish Council had described the previous application as ‘environmentally sensitive in an ANOB’, voicing concern about the size of the lagoon and the extra traffic it could generate, and it ‘totally objected’ to the new application.

The National Trust, which owns parts of the coast path, has objected to the retrospective application, saying, given its size, design and location, it had the ‘potential for a significant impact on landscape character’.

The Ramblers’ Association’s Devon Area has also voiced its ‘unease’. It said the application was correctly advertised as ‘affecting a public right of way’, as a public footpath ran along a track to the south of the lagoon. It was concerned with the health and safety of walkers using the footpath.

Natural England said it had not been consulted, but added the scale of the development and its location on a high point within the protected landscape, ‘with its potential for landscape and visual impacts’, was of concern.

A spokesperson for Parkham Farms said the construction of the new slurry storage reservoir had been at the request of the Environment Agency.

Despite initial encouragement from planners, the earlier application had been refused following local objections, which had left the farm in the ‘impossible position’ of having inadequate storage for its slurry, while trying to address some of the objections. After significant rainfall in December, the Environment Agency finally insisted additional storage be provided with immediate effect.

“We believe we were correct in placing priority on the environment but have gone to lengths to try and communicate the issues and keep all concerned informed.”

Andrew Butler, dairy adviser for NFU South West said the farmer was facing the classic ‘between a rock and a hard place’ dilemma.

“He has endeavoured to engage with objectors and explain why the store was needed. In fact, it will allow nutrients to be used in a much more targeted manner, reduce the amount of artificial fertiliser used and the slurry will be spread using systems which will keep traffic movements to a minimum.

“A very sensible outcome for economic and environmental sustainability has been achieved with minimal disruption to anybody’s amenities – exactly what we need to see happening if the countryside is to be allowed to prosper without detriment to the environment, rather than being fossilised.”

Peter Willes is no stranger to controversy. He was a leading figure behind Nocton Dairies’ plans to build a large-scale dairy unit with 8,000 cattle in Lincolnshire.

The application, which attracted vast numbers of objections, and was raised in Parliament, was withdrawn in February 2011, with objections from the Environment Agency cited as the ‘sole reason’.

Mr Willes, a director of Nocton Dairies, was also fined and ordered to pay costs last year after admitting three cases of flouting environmental regulations, at Beckland Farm, Hartland, including causing slurry and milk to enter a stream.

Readers' comments (11)

  • When will the general public wake up to the fact that in order to supply cheap food farms need to grow

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  • The EA chuck rules at us, we take heade and comply, then get kicked for doing what we are told, let 'em starve I say!

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  • the obvious solution was to cut cow numbers down to five hundred! that is still alot more than we farm, if every farm produced ten percent less milk, then the price would go up another 5 pence!

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  • Well, well, he's at it again. I agree with the solution of cutting cow numbers not increasing them.

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  • If we are to be really honest in situations like this then we need to present the entire facts. It is unlikely that The EA just turned up at his farm gate in December and requested that he build a slurry lagoon. It is likely that this has been going on for some considerable period of time and he hasn't dealt with it. Nor is it reasonable to tell him to reduce his herd size. If he has the inclination to farm on such a scale then good luck to him. The truth is that it isn't about the laggoon being built - just about where it should go - and he has obviously got fed up with the red tape (that we all have to deal with) and gone ahead and built it. I only hope that he is as quick to relocate it if required.

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  • I agree that changes in rules and regulations can put businesses in a difficult position but if everyone built/dig where they wanted to and put retrospective permissions in there would be chaos! He should abide by the rules and plan rather than panic!! We have made larger storage but before we went up in cow numbers, not afterwards, we got planning consent before, not retrospective. If we can do it so can he!! He is trying to beat the system... And from what I have heard it isn't the first time.... But I could be wrong!!

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  • Peter I am surprised that given everything that has happened over the past 2 years you have found yourself in this position again.
    As a farmer I absolutely symathise; your problem is a typical one.
    I am fairly certain that sooner, rather than later large farms will be regulated by licence much as large pig and poultry producers are. As an industry, we need to engage with EA and other regulaters as soon as possible, to inform any plans they have, or we will be left with legislation that we do not like or had no input into.

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  • Health and safety?? install deer fencing along with the wooden railed fencing.
    Extra traffic?? fill with underground pipes and empty with the umbilical.
    Smell?? well when you walk through a farm what do you expect?
    What's the problem?

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  • Well, Mr Anonymous of 28 Feb, the problem is that we live i n a crowded country where the population as a whole in general subscribes to the law. One of those laws is the various planning acts, and another is the Environmental Protection Act. All this guy had to do was to familiarise himself with the law, abide by it and build it into his business plan. That may include recognising that being in an AONB may just be a bit too restrictive for his type of business, and that the best way to get what he wants doesn't include stretching the law. He's a member of society, just like the rest of us. He should grow up and get a sense of responsibility.

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  • Typical joined up thinking in this country. "You need to store your slurry but, we're not going to allow you to put it anywhere."

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