Anaerobic Digester At Centre Of Wye Court Case Investigated For Planning Breaches

12th March 2023

An anaerobic digester plant due to receive tonnes of additional manure from expanding poultry production in the River Wye catchment has consistently breached planning laws. Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (BBNPA) has confirmed multiple planning breaches at the site in Talgarth, following a formal complaint by Fish Legal and the Gwent Angling Society over the authority’s failures to act on reports of planning irregularities going back as far as 2016. 

The digester at Great Porthamel Farm near Brecon, operated by GP Biotec, is sited on the banks of the River Llynfi, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a tributary of the River Wye Special Area of Conservation.  The Llynfi has suffered three serious pollution incidents on the lower river since 2016.

The digester was at the centre of a recent legal challenge taken by Fish Legal against a decision by Powys County Council to grant planning permission for additional intensive poultry units in Builth Wells.  Fish Legal argued that Powys County Council had failed to properly consider the pollution risk to the River Wye from the spreading of digestate that would result from the poultry development.  There was an agreement in place between the poultry producers and GP Biotec that its anaerobic digester plant at Great Porthamel Farm would accept the manure and dirty water generated from the increased poultry production higher up in the Wye catchment. 

In order to rectify the ongoing planning breaches, BBNPA has invited the operator of the anaerobic digester site in Talgarth to make a retrospective planning application to cover all its operations currently taking place without planning consent. 

Penelope Gane, Head of Practice at Fish Legal said:

“We are aware that the anaerobic digester at this site has continued to operate, despite the fact that it does not have planning permission for all of its structures, including lagoons and slurry tanks.  Part of the process for granting planning permission would involve considering pollution risks associated with the development and likely significant effects on the River Wye Special Area of Conservation.  That just hasn’t been done, leaving the River Llynfi and the River Wye dangerously exposed to pollution.”

She added:

“The authority has now belatedly said that the digester owners can apply for planning permission to remedy the situation.  But it is extraordinarily that they are allowing this facility to continue operating when not all of its structures are legal.  We are not talking about a kitchen extension here.  This is a huge industrial site processing tens of thousands of tonnes of manure and slurry every year in the Wye catchment.”

Dave Collins, Vice Chair of Gwent Angling Society, which leases one Llynfi fishery and is the riparian owner of another, said:

“BBNPA has repeatedly missed opportunities to investigate and take enforcement action at this anaerobic digester site.  In the meantime, GP Biotec’s operations have been able to grow with virtual immunity.  Despite GP Biotec being in breach of planning control, BBNPA seems reluctant to get tough with them. Crucial documents, including all important drainage plans are still not with the authority.”

He added:    

“Following the last pollution in 2020, Natural Resources Wales estimated that over 45,000 fish had been killed, with widespread invertebrate loss, to some 5 kilometres of the lower river.  We estimate that it will take another eight years before fish populations recover to pre-2016 levels.  Over the last seven years, in spite of the repeated loss of angling amenity, we have invested significant time and resource into the lower river’s recovery.  But we live in fear of the next phone call with news of another fish kill, once more destroying our fisheries and the river habitat.  Action to stop this site being a pollution risk should be a top priority for the authorities”.

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