Council discounts 1,000 letters voicing opposition to pig mega farm... because they came from an online petition site
Almost 1,000 letters of objection against plans for a giant pig farm have been discounted, it can be revealed.
Antrim and Newtownabbey Council has been inundated with letters from those opposed to a 30,000-capacity facility proposed by farmer Derek Hall.
Queen guitarist Brian May has also rowed in behind the campaign to stop the development.
Mr Hall wants to build a new facility on the Rae Hill Road to replace older buildings he currently uses, arguing it will allow his pigs more space and better conditions.
It will be significantly larger than his current farm which has sparked concern among both local residents and animal rights campaigners.
The decision over whether or not to allow the plans will be one of the first major tests for the new planning powers now delegated to councils.
Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the council has received 2,000 letters of objection.
Now it has emerged that only 737 of the letters have been officially recorded.
A council spokeswoman said a high volume of the other letters of objection were from an online petition site.
"As a result, these were allocated against the petition and not recorded as individual objections," she said.
This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands who have signed other online petitions against the farmer
However a spokesman for the objectors said they are not concerned about the number of letters.
He said the content and quality of the letters counted are more important to their campaign than the sheer volume, adding that relevant issues will defeat the plans, not the number of letters.
Yesterday we revealed that Queen guitarist Brian May has joined the campaign against the new pig farm.
Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph, he described it as a "horrific prospect"
"Mechanised farming on this scale is a horrific prospect," he said.
"Cruel and degrading to the animals, it is the final unacceptable step into the complete denial that animals have any feelings, or any right to a decent life and a decent death."
Antrim and Newtownabbey Council has been overwhelmed with objectors to the plans, and have said they cannot respond individually any more.
It can also be revealed that the council is organising a pre-determination hearing about the matter.
However, a date has not been set for this yet, nor has a date been set for the Planning Committee meeting at which a decision over Mr Hall's plans will be made.
A public meeting organised by the objectors, to which the Hall family has been invited, was due to take place last night, but was postponed.
Mr Hall says his plan will allow his pigs more space and is also necessary to supply the demand for pork locally.
"All of our animals are born and reared on our current farm before being sent to market and this would not change," he said.
"Many local consumers who want to eat pork, and supermarkets who sell it, want their products to be from the UK or Ireland where they know that the welfare of the pigs is being monitored.
"Although the number of pigs on farms is getting bigger with a number of farmers already owning more than 30,000 over various locations, the number of pig farmers is continuing to decline. If we do not increase the number of pigs being born and reared here, in future the only alternative will be to import from other less-regulated countries."