NORTHERN IRELAND, UK - Work has commenced on a new state of the art pig farm in Northern Ireland which is set to become one of the largest in the UK, writes Chris McCullough.
Diggers have moved on-site to start the construction of the controversial pig farm in Newtownabbey, just outside Belfast, that will house 15,000 animals.
Enabling work commenced on Monday this week as lorry loads of hardcore arrived at the Rea Hill Road to construct a laneway into the site.
Once that is completed a hardcore area will be laid out for the yard before any buildings are started.
Much to the dismay of local and international protesters the pig farm received planning permission back in November last year following months of talks.
The new farm will be home to 15,000 pigs from around a weaning weight of 7kgs upwards while the sows will remain on the existing home farm.
Plans were originally drawn up by farmer Derek Hall for the new farm to house 30,000 pigs but planning permission was granted for half that number in the end.
Mr Hall hopes the farm will be completed around September time if everything goes to plan.
Derek said: “The enabling work has started on the farm. A hardcore lane and yard are in the process of being built before any work on the buildings starts.
“The site where the farm is being built extends to 30 acres but we are actually only building on around twenty percent of that. The remainder will be left as a green field site and a water attenuation pond.
“The farm itself is being built at the back of the site with the pond visible from the road. Four sheds each measuring around 110 metres by 38 metres are being built there.
“We aim to house 15,000 pigs from weaning age, or around seven kilograms upwards, at the new farm. A third of the total pigs there will be small pigs producing very little slurry.
“Currently we have 900 sows and these will be kept at our existing farm. When the new farm is completed there is the potential to increase the sow herd to 1,500, but only if it is required.
“We are building a 500 kilowatt anaerobic digester which will take the odour emitting gases from the slurry thereby significantly reducing odour, and convert them into energy.
“This energy base will be used to power the farm. The digester also produces heat which will be used in the pig houses in order to create a better environment for the animals.
“It is hoped to complete all the works by September or earlier if everything goes to plan,” he added.
The planning permission was passed by councillors, some of them farmers, at a sitting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council Planning Committee in November 2016 where nine councillors voted in favour and two opposed the development.
Residents had voiced huge concern over the project and said the unit would produce too much slurry and smell.
Celebrities including Queen guitarist and animal welfare campaigner Brian May as well as actors Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove publicly opposed the pig unit as well in the past.
Ulster Unionist Party councillor Roderick Swann is also a farmer and backed the proposal.
He said: "I'm a farmer myself who supports the agri-industry and I was quite satisfied that all the necessary welfare issues were addressed.
"The planning case officer and all the consultees were quite happy with everything that was proposed."
Asked if he understood the strong opposition both from locals and those not so local Mr Swann said: "I can and I can't. There was an awful lot of 'not in my back yard', with lots of emails flying through.
"But these people are all farm quality assured, the pigs are well looked after. To get a quality assurance accreditation is very tight."
As part of their campaign against the project, opponents said they had huge issues with excessive noise and smell.
Mr Swann said: "I myself was in Germany to see the system and I can tell you I was standing six inches from the external wall and could only smell wood. I also put my ear to the wall an only heard an odd snort.”
The councillor also spoke out about celebrities becoming involved in such cases and told them to “keep your nose out.”
Mr Swann said: "I would say simply keep your nose out of it. I'm a farmer myself for 50 years and I understand farming.
"A lot of these animal rights folks, they're entitled to their opinion, but I think they're on the wrong track sometimes. This will be the most modern pig farm, not a factory, not only in Ireland but also Great Britain."
Two DUP councillors were the only ones to vote against the new pig farm which will be built on a green field site.
Councillor John Smyth and his fellow party colleague Thomas Hogg voted against the motion.
Mr Smyth said: "My objections were that I felt the experts weren't always right. I was undecided till tonight when I heard the arguments for and against.
"Bringing such a large development of slurry to the side of a hill I think is going to be dangerous for the future. Also, I have concerns how it will be produced year after year. I have grave concerns.
"I wouldn't like it on my front door, and a lot of people are concerned. It will definitely smell. People say it will be odour free, but there's no such thing as an odour free system. There are animal welfare concerns."
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