Dear Mr Sargeant
I’m writing to express my disappointment at your decision to approve the expansion of Lower Leighton Farm (more commonly known as the Leighton mega diary). I find it hard to comprehend how you could ignore the advice of the planning inspector, Powys County Council, the local planning department, the town council, a host of national organisations and the local community.
Your contention that the economic benefit outweighs all other concerns is nonsense. The only person to benefit from this is the already wealthy farmer and landowner. This kind of development can only be bad for farming in general and this particular one will be very bad for our village.
The investment required for a mega diary like this is huge and well beyond the reach of most small family-run farms. This only weakens their already perilous position by making them even less competitive. The farmer has stated he will not reduce the cost of his milk but this is surely a short-term position which in the longer-term will not be the case as he seeks to gain commercial advantage. His assertions now are not binding. So what you have in fact done is given a green light to wealthy farmers to pursue this kind of development, and at the same time tightened the noose around small-scale dairy farms. Your short-sightedness is baffling if not wholly neglectful for a person in your position.
Producing ever cheaper milk is not going to alleviate the problems diary farmers are having. What is needed is legislation to enforce a basic price for milk. Consumers have become too used to cheap food which has been driven by the supermarkets. Only a legal framework can ensure the future of UK diary farming, not a race to the bottom of ever cheaper milk. It’s just not sustainable.
This development will create a small number of jobs but the economic benefit of these over the long timeframe of 15 years is completely insignificant. The herdsmen to be employed will most likely be non-UK-born economic migrants, as the three or four who work there are now. The few part-time jobs really do not add anything to the local economy. The contracts for the build will go to companies outside of this area.
But what is at risk? If the local primary school closes there will be at least 15 jobs lost and then there is the danger that the village hall may close too (as it is part-funded by the school). Parents have already expressed great concern and some have indicated that they will move their children to other schools. A lovely, small rural school becomes quite a less attractive prospect when next to an industrial sized development. Nevermind the 10 years of noise and traffic disruption from the building phase.
There is also the wider risk to tourism in this area, as outlined by the National Trust and others. Many thousands of tourists visit Mid Wales for its outstanding landscape, which you have put at risk by endorsing large-scale industrial developments in the countryside. As you no doubt know, tourism contributes many more than 15 jobs in this area.
As minister for regeneration, economic growth is clearly your only concern but your decision has put two industries in jeopardy, as well as our village. Also you should remember that the point of wealth creation is to improve the lives of everyone, not just those who are already fortunate. It would seem that you have failed in all aspects of your appointed role.
You may have had a better idea of these issues if you had visited the site yourself, instead of listening to lobbyists promoting their own self-interests.