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Construction begins on controversial farm which will house 15,000 pigs


Artist's impression of the new pig farm at Newtownabbey (courtesy McGurran Associates Ltd, Belfast)

Artist's impression of the new pig farm at Newtownabbey (courtesy McGurran Associates Ltd, Belfast)

Artist's impression of the new pig farm at Newtownabbey (courtesy McGurran Associates Ltd, Belfast)

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 Britain and Ireland.

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 last 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 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 7kg 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 that the farm will be completed around September time if everything goes to plan.

"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," Hall said.

Local residents strongly opposed the development, claiming that 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, have also opposed the pig unit.

The planning permission was passed by councillors, some of them farmers, at a sitting of Antrim and Newtown- abbey Borough Council Planning Committee in November 2016, where nine councillors voted in favour and two opposed the development.

"The site where the farm is being built extends to 30ac but we are actually only building on around 20pc of that. The remainder will be left as a greenfield site and a water attenuation pond," Hall explained.

"The farm itself is being built at the back of the site with the pond visible from the road. Four sheds each measuring around 110m by 38m are being built there.

"We aim to house 15,000 pigs from weaning age, or around 7kg 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," he added.

"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 all the works will be completed by September or earlier if everything goes to plan," he added.

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Ulster Unionist Party councillor Roderick Swann is also a farmer and he backed the proposal.

He said he was "quite satisfied" that all the necessary welfare issues that had been raised by objectors were addressed.

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 backyard', 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 that they had huge issues with excessive noise and smell. But Mr Swann rejected these objections.

"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 and only heard an odd snort," he said.

He also dismissed the involvement of celebrities in the campaign against the unit, advising them to keep their noses out of the matter.

Two DUP councillors were the only local representatives to vote against the new pig farm being built on a greenfield site. Councillor John Smyth and his fellow party colleague Thomas Hogg voted against the motion.

"I felt the experts weren't always right," Councillor Smyth said. "Bringing such a large development of slurry to the side of a hill I think is going to be dangerous for the future," he added.

"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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