Plans for mega pig farm to be scaled back after outcry from green groups and celebrities
Controversial proposals to build the UK's largest pig farm on the outskirts of Belfast are to be cut back.
The farmer behind the plans said he intended to reduce the number of pigs from the original estimate of 30,000, but he could not reveal by how much just yet.
Derek Hall added that many critics of the proposals wrongly believed they were for a slaughterhouse rather than a farm.
Members of Antrim and Newtownabbey Council's Planning Committee were told this week that Mr Hall would be submitting an amended scheme reducing the scale in the near future.
The original plans were for a state-of-the-art facility built in two phases, with the first housing no more than 15,000 animals and the second up to 30,000.
But the controversial plans were met with fury from residents and animal rights activists, as well as celebrities such as Queen guitarist Brian May, actress Jenny Seagrove and actor Martin Shaw.
The council received 850 letters of objection and only two in support, while an online petition opposing the proposals attracted more than 200,000 signatures after animal rights group Viva launched a campaign.
Opponents expressed concerns over animal welfare, smell, traffic and pollution of the water table.
Mr Hall told the Belfast Telegraph consultants were working on the revised plans and said he had been surprised by the scale of the public outcry. "But in saying that, there's been a lot of misunderstandings out there - it's not a slaughterhouse," he added.
"I offered to meet (critics) at a proper democratic meeting where it would be done sensibly, but they didn't want to attend."
According to the farmer, the amended plans will involve fewer animals and, as was the case with the initial proposals, will be designed to meet RSPCA standards.
"We decided to reduce the size of the plan as we are doing a lot of things to satisfy the DoE," he told the Newtownabbey Times.
Antrim & Newtownabbey Council said the original application was still under consideration and that no opinion had been made. "The Council decided that there should be a pre-determination hearing for the application," a spokesperson added.
"It was anticipated that this would take place towards the end of the summer following consultation with a range of bodies.
"The council now understands that the applicant intends to submit an amended scheme reducing the scale of the proposal in the near future. Any revised scheme would require re-advertisement and re-consultation.
"As a consequence it is unlikely that the proposed pre-determination hearing will take place until towards the end of 2015.
"Some 850 individual written objections have been submitted, together with several email petitions signed by more than 200,000 people."
Friends of the Earth said scaling down the proposal from a mega factory to a giant factory did not disguise the fundamental problems associated with this type of farming project.
"Virtually no jobs will be created, and when we industrialise our food production we destroy our clean, green image," NI director Dr James Orr added. "Northern Ireland needs farms not factories to produce quality food.
"We continually fail in this country to adequately assess air, land and water pollution and the potential effects on human health from this type of project."
Critics posting on the Stop The Newtownabbey Pig Factory Facebook page were not convinced either, and questioned whether the plan would start off as a smaller proposal onto which extras would later be added.