Poultry farm expansion plan approved, despite concerns over animal welfare

A major expansion has been approved of the poultry farm at Hurworth Burn Farm, near Wingate, County Durham. Pic: Google Maps.
A major expansion has been approved of the poultry farm at Hurworth Burn Farm, near Wingate, County Durham. Pic: Google Maps.

Councillors have given the go ahead to poultry unit revamp plans which aim to boost the amount of chicken being produced in the UK.

On September 4, Durham County Council’s County Planning Committee met to discuss plans for the buildings at Hurworth Burn Farm, near Wingate.

Amber Real Estate Investments aims to replace the existing sheds at the farm in Hurworth Burn Road, which would increase capacity for broiler chickens by nearly half to 240,000 birds, or 38kg per square metre.

The broiler farm was built around 50 years ago, and proposals include replacing the existing 12 poultry sheds – which had a capacity of 165,000 – with four newer buildings.

Tom Warren, speaking on behalf of the applicant, said plans marked an upgrade for units “at the end of their operational life” in a context of increased demand for fresh chicken products.

“All large-scale poultry units have to have an environmental permit issued by the Environment Agency in order to operate,” he told councillors at Durham County Hall.

“Customers, both retailers and consumers, expect them to operate in line with the best available techniques; therefore an upgrade of this unit becomes essential.

“The UK still imports roughly 40 per cent of its poultry meat requirement, with some of the larger supermarkets still importing chicken from Brazil and Thailand, particularly for sandwich fillings and ready meals, with meat imported and frozen in blocks for onward processing.

“With the uncertainty of Brexit and future international trade, the ability to produce and grow more food in this country, reliant less on imports, is of significant importance.

“As well as the issue of food security, there are clear environmental and animal welfare benefits of not importing food from around the world from countries with less animal welfare or meat hygiene standards than are here in the UK.

“The proposed upgrade and investment will result in increased efficiency and standardised production, meaning it will be a benefit to both the site and the wider local area.”

While the proposals were recommended for approval by planning officers, some councillors spoke out about animal welfare at the meeting.

Coun Mark Wilkes raised concerns about “cramming” twice the amount of birds into a similar area of floor space, but was told by a planning officer that the firm would be meeting welfare standards.

Coun John Clare added the development would help “strengthen the local economy”, and while he said he shared welfare concerns, the capacity of the farm was not a planning consideration. 

Following discussion, councillors voted to approve the plans, with one refusal and two abstentions.

When operational, the farm would be based on a 42-day growing cycle – around 6.5 cycles a year – with the new facility aiming to improve welfare and production.

Birds farmed on the site will also be processed at a factory in Scunthorpe, which is owned by Two Sisters Food Group.

Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporting Service