A farmer has been paid almost £1.5million of public money to stop rearing pigs to allow 5,000 new homes to be built.
The deal is part of a move to reduce the amount of harmful nutrients flowing into waterways in Norfolk and to get housebuilding moving again.
The pig farm is on either side of the A47 bypass south of Norwich. By closing it down, the reduction in pollution means that officials will be able to grant permission for 5,000 homes elsewhere in the county.
Under a directive issued last year, local authorities are obliged to find ways to ‘offset’ the impact of pollution on waterways caused by new developments.
So-called ‘nutrient neutrality’ was hailed by environmentalists who argued it would limit the amount of damaging substances in rivers and lakes, such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
The huge deal in Norfolk has now raised concerns that farmers elsewhere will be paid to effectively sit on their hands, while the UK’s food security – the amount of homegrown produce available for our tables – will be further weakened.
Local authorities cannot approve new developments in some areas unless they offset the environmental impact caused by new homes, including increased sewage and detergents from washing machines. Councils have been looking for schemes that meet this requirement – and Norfolk’s solution was to pay the farmer to stop rearing pigs.
The authorities will pay him through Norfolk Environmental Credits Ltd – but hope to claw back the money from developers, who will pay NEC Ltd for environmental ‘credits’ giving them the right to build their housing schemes.
Seen as an environmentally neutral scheme, the farmer will essentially be paid to stop polluting waterways – and balance out the pollution that comes from new homes.
Markshall Farm, which sits by the A47 bypass south of Norwich, rears up to 2,000 pigs every year, producing nutrients that run into two nearby rivers.