MAELOR FOODS’ 15-month battle to remove processing restrictions at its Wrexham plant is drawing to a close after a Welsh Government planning inspector heard the case.
The £20m site first became operational in November 2017 with a 400,000-bird a week limit to the processing capacity in place.
But by December that year the firm, which is a sister business to Salisbury Poultry, said increasing demand meant it needed that limit to be lifted to a million birds a week.
That application was refused twice by councillors before an appeal placed the case before planning inspector Hywel Wyn Jones in late March.
The hearing, which took place in Wrexham’s rather tired Memorial Hall, was crowded with local residents and councillors who had concerns over noise, smells and traffic as well as poultry producers who spoke in favour of the application.
The site Maelor Foods opened in 2017 has been in industrial use since 1937, when it was operated by Cadbury’s. More recently it has been occupied by Dairy Crest and later First Milk.
The haulier Lloyd Fraser also sold a building on the premises to Maelor Foods when it took on the site.
Maelor Foods converted it with two kill lines and a capacity of a million birds in mind and was awarded a £3.1m grant from the Welsh Government in recognition of the jobs it would provide to the local area.
The plant currently employs more than 100 people and the company says that number will go up if production does.
Many of the objections were concerned with the potential growth in traffic movements. It was estimated they would increase from 29 currently to 72 if the expansion went ahead.
Mr Wyn Jones heard how lorries sent out to catch birds woke residents of the three houses opposite the site each morning and about a junction that many felt was unsuitable for HGVs.
But Eversheds Sutherland partner Stuart Andrews, acting for Maelor Foods, said Lloyd Fraser had expressed an interest in renting its old buildings, for which it retained a Vehicle Operator Licence if the expansion did not go ahead.
Keith Spencer, a director at Lloyd Fraser said they could legally add hundreds of lorry movements to the site if that was the case.
Maelor Foods’ Michael Howard added in contrast the buildings could be converted into lairage facilities to accommodate the additional capacity if the bird limit was lifted.
Farmers spoke in support of the proposals, with one saying about 80% of the commercial poultrymeat sector was in the hands of large integrated businesses, and the independent slaughterhouses like Maelor offered some competition.
Another, a Mr Elliott of Blackrock Farm, said he had recently diversified into poultry production, pointing to the fact that most farming enterprises in Wales operate at a loss. “There is clear evidence available that beef and sheep farming is not sustainable,” he said, adding that his poultry enterprise aided the financial stability of his farm.
He suggested that the site, which currently slaughtered around 80k birds a day supported more than 90 sheds, mostly within 50 miles of the site, and that the expansion may support a further 140 sheds’ worth of broiler production, which he estimated would bring £70m of building work alone to the local economy.
Another producer, Elaine Rees Jones, expressed disbelief that, not only had the plant received £3.1m in grant funding, but many of the farmers had received Sustainable Production Grants to build poultry sheds and supply it.
Maelor Foods has applied for costs, and a decision is expected in four- to-six weeks.