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Residents kick up a stink over mozzarella cheese factory effluent tanks

31 Mar 2024 5 minute read
The Dairy Partners mozzarella factory site near Newcastle Emlyn, pictured in 2020. Photo by Carmarthenshire Council

Richard Youle, local democracy reporter

The owners of a mozzarella cheese factory have been given planning permission for new effluent and cleaning tanks after installing them without consent.

Carmarthenshire Council’s planning committee heard that Dairy Partners Ltd built two effluent tanks at Aberarad, near Newcastle Emlyn, in 2020 because its previous waste system was failing and required up to 28 tanker movements per week to remove the waste sludge.

Planning officer Gary Glenister told the committee that the council did not condone unauthorised development or retrospective applications but that the 7.8m high tanks were, in its view, considered to be appropriate development.

Noxious smells

There were seven objections to the retrospective application, and two objectors addressed the committee saying their lives had been blighted by noxious smells from the effluent tanks – one of which is open to allow compressed air to escape.

Objector Stephen Rees said he believed Dairy Partners had sought to avoid scrutiny by installing the tanks without consent, that there were spillages during heavy rainfall, and that the development was part of a wider, uncontrolled intensification of the site.

Mr Rees said people living close by were also subjected to noise and light pollution, that HGV lorries came and went between 11pm and 7am, and that noise testing that had taken place at the plant had not been done during times of peak production. The reality for neighbouring residents, he said, was “considerable disruption”.

Objector Megan Ceiriog-Jones said she and others were no longer able to enjoy their homes and gardens due to a “foul stench” since 2020. She said she wanted Dairy Partners to eliminate the smell, which she said was worse between March and October, reduce noise from the site, and install acoustic barriers.

She said: “The emotional, psychological and physical effects of noise and sleeplessness are hard to quantify.” Ms Ceiriog-Jones added that jobs at the factory were important, but she claimed that automation had reduced their number.

HGV movements

Planning agent Jason Evans, speaking on behalf of Dairy Partners, which can produce around 400 tonnes of cheese per week at the site, said it employed 75 people and supported 150 farmers.

Mr Evans said the former waste system was not fit for purpose, and that the new tanks had been installed in order to adhere with environmental permit commitments. The tanks, he added, had led to a reduction in HGV movements.

Dairy Partners is also proposing to create a closed area by the tanks to avoid effluent entering the adjacent Afon Arad in the event of a breach. “All permit requirements will be met with this (planning) approval,” said Mr Evans.

Ward councillor Hazel Evans addressed the committee to say that Dairy Partners was a large contributor to the local economy and that she was reassured by the many planning conditions recommended by the council.

She said she understood that some nearby residents weren’t happy, although they didn’t wish to see the factory close. Cllr Evans urged Dairy Partners and objectors to work together.

Newcastle Emlyn Town Council supported the application but wanted all planning conditions and legal requirements to be monitored and adhered to. It also suggested acoustic barriers around the factory perimeter.

Cllr Ken Howells said the application was to improve the site, and he proposed that the committee vote in favour of the officers’ recommendation of approval. He said he was aware of previous problems but that he hadn’t noticed a smell when he had driven past of late.

The two effluent tanks at Dairy Partners’ mozzarella factory site near Newcastle Emlyn. Photo Carmarthenshire Council

Cleaning tanks

Councillors asked questions about the proposed containment area by the tanks, and about noise and odour levels.

The planning report said noise from the effluent tanks was below that of background noise, while Mr Glenister said he had only noticed a bad smell during his site visits when an inspection chamber had been opened.

After unanimously approving the application, the committee heard more about the separate application for five five-metre high cleaning tanks beside the main factory building.

Mr Glenister said Dairy Partners had installed them after submitting a planning application but before it had been determined. “We cannot condone the fact they did that in advance,” he said.

Objector Ms Ceiriog-Jones claimed the council had “showed no interest” when notified about their construction, while Mr Rees said the cleaning tanks enabled the site to run 24/7, which had an impact on residents.

Planning agent Mr Evans said the cleaning tanks helped secure the viability of the site and that installing them had showed a “commitment to operate an environmentally-responsible facility”.

There were three objections to the application and also 29 letters of support from the agricultural community. The committee, following a discussion, approved it unanimously.

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