Campaigners win Woolley Valley land battle


A campaign group has won a High Court battle over the agricultural use of Green Belt land formerly owned by broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby for intensive poultry farming.

The Save Woolley Valley Action Group (SWVAG) is dedicated to protecting ancient meadows near Bath.

The group challenged decisions made by Bath and North East Somerset Council allowing large-scale poultry rearing at Meadow Farm, Woolley Lane, Charlcombe, which lies within the Cotswold "area of outstanding natural beauty".

Today a judge ruled the council had gone wrong in law.

Mr Dimbleby sold 20.5 hectares to Golden Valley Paddocks Ltd in 2005.

The group says that it is not against the land being farmed "appropriately", as it has been for centuries, and actively supports sustainable grazing by sheep and cattle.

But members, including local farmers, fear that intensive poultry farming will destroy the ancient meadows.

SWVAG went to the High Court to challenge local council decision allowing the setting up of sheds, approximately 20 metres by 6m (65ft by 20ft) and 3.5m (11.5ft) high, sitting on metal skids enabling them to be moved about the site.

The group also challenged the construction of a stock pond.

Today, Mrs Justice Lang, sitting in London, allowed judicial review on both challenges.

She described how Golden Valley acquired the land with a view to breeding alpaca and free range chickens but instead it had mainly been used for the rearing of ducks.

As of January 2011, there were 4,000 ducks in eight sheds. It was hoped to reach 5,000 ducks in ten sheds, said the judge.

Allowing the SWVAG legal challenge, the judge declared the council had "misdirected itself in law" when it concluded that the poultry units were not "development" susceptible to planning control and did not require an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

The judge also ruled the council acted unlawfully by granting planning permission for the stock pond "without having carried out a lawful screening opinion".

SWVAG had argued the EIA screening opinion that was obtained failed to consider the overall environmental impact of the poultry farming proposals on the site.