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Animal Welfare Should be at the Heart of Large Farm Projects

The welfare of cattle should be built into the core of any proposal for large-scale farming projects, according to the lawyer who won a landmark victory in the High Court.

Niall Blackie acted for Welshpool farmer Fraser Jones, who won a long battle to build a 1,000-cow dairy unit when the High Court threw out a challenge from the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

Senior Partner at FBC Manby Bowdler Niall Blackie

Niall Blackie - Senior Partner at FBC Manby Bowdler

Mr Blackie said that both a public inquiry and Welsh Minister Carl Sargeant had accepted the welfare of the cows had been addressed by Mr Jones' original application, leaving no grounds for a challenge on that aspect of the application.

Mr Blackie, Senior Partner with Midlands law firm FBC Manby Bowdler, said: “This is a multi-million investment in the area, which would create jobs for the local community, but the position of the farm was difficult because of its proximity to Powis Castle, an undoubtedly nationally important listed building, with gardens which overlooked the application site.

“The Welsh Minister accepted my closing submission as setting out the right balance for the case. Although, as he had to, he gave particular weight to the heritage impact, he regarded it as having been outweighed by the economic case. The Minister rejected the whole of the animal welfare case. One reason, no doubt was that Mr Jones had designed every aspect of the project with the welfare of the cattle at the forefront; this should be regarded as a prerequisite on new applications.”

The WSPA last week challenged the Minister's decision to give the go-ahead to the scheme as perverse, an application which was dismissed by Mr Justice Hickinbottom after hearing submissions from Mr Blackie.

He added: “As a firm, we hope that Fraser Jones' project will be an exemplar of the way forward for this part of the dairy industry: his commitment to the welfare of his animals was evident in his evidence to the inquiry.

“By building a large scale dairy unit, it is hoped that he will be able to put an end to the criticism of this type of operation and show that, whilst problems have occurred in other countries, this country has a long history of care for its livestock.

“We hope that other farmers will now find the confidence to bring forward similar application, but recommend careful preparation, and thought, as to the welfare question, because WSPA are clearly unhappy about this particular type of farming operation. Fraser Jones satisfied the inspector and Minister that his animals would be properly looked after, but in future cases it will remain important to produce sound evidence on that subject.”

Mr Jones has made clear that the cows would be kept in groups of 150, and would not be kept indoors all year round but for 250 days of their lactation, and their health would be continually monitored.

When inside, the cows have sheds designed for them with natural ventilation and room to lie down. Mr Jones told the inquiry that the cattle would spend less time in the milking parlour and standing around on concrete and dry cows and late-lactating cows will be outside.

Mr Blackie added: The case is a good example of the potential results of careful case preparation, and the thought which has to be put into the strategy for a complex planning case in the agricultural world.”

FBC Manby Bowdler

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