Villagers fight new turkey farm bid

By Mark Elson in Local People

A LORRY laden with turkeys could be gobbled up by a cavern roof caving in, villagers have warned.

Residents in Clearwell are opposing a new bid for a mass-production poultry farm of up to 15,000 turkeys on their doorstep, amid fears of “an unpredictable and major cave roof collapse”.

The area relies heavily on visitors, and parish councillors claim it could also “cause serious and irreversible damage to the tourist industry”.

Hays Farms from Ross-on-Wye failed in their previous bid to produce 350,000 chickens per year at Clearwell Farm in the Rocks, but now want to rear more than 33,000 turkeys there annually instead.

The farm is close to top visitor attractions Clearwell Caves, the Secret Forest and Puzzlewood. Caves owner Jonathan Wright said: “There’s a mine cavern right underneath the farm’s cattle grid which is often visited by cavers, and it would swallow a lorry whole if it collapsed.

“You read about sinkholes, and the cavern roof there is quite shallow, so it does concern me.”

He added: “I think the plan is just inappropriate for such a beautiful location which attracts so many visitors.

“We get people from all over the world visiting, and I don’t think they’ll like the idea of driving into the village past a smelly turkey farm.

“It’s not what you really want for a place which depends so much on visitors, with some really excellent venues, such as the Tudor Farmhouse, the Clearwell Castle wedding venue, the newly renovated Wyndham Arms, and two lovely pubs.”

The area has proved popular with the film industry, having provided locations for the likes of Star Wars, Dr Who and Merlin. And with a large number of people earning their living in the tourism and visitor industry, Newland Parish Council says a turkey farm on its doorstep will kill the golden goose.

Last year, Forest planners rejected Hays Farms’ bid to house 40,000 chickens in eight steel-framed broiler units. Hays withdrew their appeal for the broiler units in March, but have now put forward a scheme for four steel and concrete turkey rearing sheds.

The farm has been used for free range egg production in the past, but Hays have now applied to have 15,000 turkeys on site at a time, including 3,750 stag turkeys, with three production cycles per year.

The business currently produces some 25 million birds a year through intensive production methods at several locations across the country.

In a letter to Forest planners, Newland parish council said lorries leaving the site via Lambsquay Road could contribute to a “major cave roof collapse”.

Councillors also believed there was “a major accident risk” from HGVs turning in and out of the entrance in a road “frequently used by walkers, cyclists, horse riders, slow moving traffic entering and leaving Clearwell Caves and Secret Forest car parks” on “a primary route for parents taking their children to the primary school”.

Parish clerk Mr Richard Crighton added that there were “major concerns” about odours, diesel fume pollution and noise from “high velocity roof-mounted ventilation fans”, which “would cause serious and irreversible damage to the tourist industry.”

In their application, Hays said the new scheme was “lower impact use with substantially less traffic generation than broiler production.”

The firm says there would be 156 HGV lorries visiting the farm per year, on a par with the former free range egg laying unit.

Manure would be removed from the buildings with a mechanical loader at the end of each production cycle and exported from the site for disposal as agricultural fertiliser.

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