A MAJOR planning application was decided behind closed doors because Herefordshire Council feared losing an appeal if its planning committee voted for refusal.

Last week, as reported by the Hereford Times, that “closed doors” approval was overturned at the High Court with the council ordered to pay undisclosed costs.

In March, the council gave the go ahead for four giant poultry houses - each the length of a football pitch - at Penrhos, near Kington, under delegated powers without taking the application to a public committee hearing.

Area member Cllr Roger Phillips told the Hereford Times that he initially wanted a public hearing but withdrew that request when told by officers that there were no planning policy reasons for refusal.

Had the application gone to committee and been turned the applicants could have won at appeal with costs awarded against the council, said Cllr Phillips.

With support secured from the Environment Agency there were no “fundamental” policy reasons for the application to be determined at committee determination at committee, he said.

The council subsequently conceded a case for judicial review at the High Court accepting that it had erred in granting approval.

Evidence submitted to the court outlined the council as having failed to comply with several legal obligations, including requirements to consider the impact of the development on a listed building and the landscape, or to evaluate the cumulative effect of chicken shed developments across the countryside.

In consenting to the High Court judgement the council agreed to pay undisclosed costs.

Objectors to the sheds said that the application was in breach of the council’s own policy that such buildings should be at least 400m away from homes – when the nearest homes were less than 200m away and Grade II* listed Penrhos Court just 300m away.

Concerns related to noise, smell and traffic from the proposed development were also raised.

But Herefordshire Council said the application would support the activities of Cargill Meats which plans to invest £35m in upgrading its Hereford plant and has been encouraging to put up poultry units.

The council has approved around 20 sheds over the past year, the biggest of which have the potential to produce 50,000 chickens for slaughter every 42 days.

At Penrhos, each shed – or broiler unit -  would have been 110m long, 20m wide and 5.2m high, with each producing 435,000 chickens each year.

An application to the High Court for Judicial Review was made by Janet Srodzinski, whose home, Penrhos House, is one of those near the sheds.

She said the development would have been “devastating” for her.

Accepting its error in granting approval, the council agreed to pay Mrs Srodzinski’s costs.

Sarah Hanson of Marches Planning Consultancy, which represented Mrs Srodzinski, said:
“Planning laws are there to protect our landscape, our heritage and people’s homes from inappropriate development.

"These poultry units are effectively industrial development and councils need to think carefully about where they should be allowed," she said.