By Jeremy Sollars
Southern Downs Regional Council last month approved a free-range egg farm east of Warwick on the basis of planning scheme amendments yet to be signed off by the State Government.
The couple behind the egg farm plan, Anthony and Rebecca Kinsella, gained council approval at the August meeting to establish the venture on their property on Jack Smith Gully Road at picturesque Freestone, despite 16 formal objections from neighbours, some of whom have described the proposal as “a nightmare”.
Councillors gave approval for up to 3000 laying hens on the 18.3 hectare property, despite the proposal being in contravention of current planning rules which stipulate that a poultry farm with more than 1000 birds must be on a property at least 100 hectares in size.
The current council planning scheme also requires a minimum 500 metre setback from the property boundaries – with the Kinsellas only being required to put in place a 10-metre buffer “strip” with tree-plantings around their perimeter.
The nearest neighbouring residence to the Kinsella property is just 185 metres from their northern boundary.
Properties on Jack Smith Gully Road and nearby areas are classed as being in the “Alluvial Plains” precinct of the Rural Zone, with current planning rules stating “intensive animal industries” – such as a poultry farm with more than 200 birds – are “generally not located in the precinct because of likely impacts on water and scenic values, loss of productive land (and the) existing closely settled character of the precinct”.
The current ‘Rural Zone Code’ also states poultry farms with more than 200 birds should be located “on very large holdings in the traprock and sandstone rises areas in the central and western parts of the region”.
Neighbours of the Kinsellas have told the Free Times of their serious concerns about noise from the birds, dust, odour, water contamination, disease and rodents and feral animals such as wild dogs being attracted by up to 3000 hens, in an area which is primarily smaller ‘lifestyle’ rural blocks.
At least one neighbouring owner plans to lodge a legal appeal against the council approval.
In all, the council received 16 objections to the Kinsella proposal and three in support.
Neighbours are also concerned the only water source on the Kinsella property is a small dam, and the sloping property itself forms a small “valley” which can be inundated during extreme rainfall.
They also claim neither mayor Tracy Dobie or any of the councillors inspected the Kinsella property in person – despite being given assurances an inspection by some or all of the councillors would happen – or if they fully read and understood the report prepared by council officers for the August meeting, which recommended approval of the Kinsella plan with conditions.
Cr Marika McNichol did visit the area and met with neighbours – after the council meeting and vote.
The Free Times asked the council to confirm if the mayor and councillors had read the report – and the neighbours’ objection statements – and if assurances had been given about an on-site inspection by councillors.
A council spokeswoman said the development approval “has been issued” and “council wishes to make no further comment at this time”.
The council’s director of Planning, Environment and Corporate Services Ken Harris did, however, confirm that the council “resolved to proceed with the proposed amendments to the Intensive Animal Industry code at its general meeting on 24 May 2017”.
“These amendments, and all of the proposed major amendments to the Southern Downs Planning Scheme, have been forwarded to the deputy premier for her approval for council to adopt the proposed amendments.”
Concern over “lack of scrutiny”
If the amendments are approved by the State Government, properties like the Kinsella’s could potentially gain approval for up to 400,000 laying hens, as part of the council’s bid to encourage new rural industries, including intensive animal industries within floodplains in the ‘Alluvial Plains’ precinct.
While neighbours of the Kinsella’s are pro the rural sector – with most having some form of livestock on their properties – they remain unconvinced councillors fully scrutinised the Kinsella application, and are adamant their property is far too small for up to 3000 hens.
They also claim the council gave them no notice that the Kinsella application would be considered at the August council meeting despite being assured they would be notified so they could attend.
The application also had to be re-advertised after the council wrongly classed it as ‘animal husbandry’ when initially received.
The controversy over the Kinsella proposal highlights decision-making processes over rural industries by councillors, who at their August meeting refused a proposal for a 3150 cattle feedlot on a 335 hectare property on Warfields Road at Allora, on the basis it was too close to surrounding properties and out of character with the locality.
Councillors received legal advice about the feedlot refusal during a confidential session of last month’s meeting.
Young couple asks neighbours to “keep an open mind”
Mark and Rebecca Kinsella say they were “shocked” at the level of concern and objection from neighbours to their free range egg farm plan.
The couple have a “passion for poultry” and while they’re currently both working full-time, they’re determined to pursue their dream of commercial egg production as a full-time livelihood down the track.
They purchased their Jack Smith Gully Road property in May of this year and say initial inquiries to the council prior to the final sale suggested their plan would be suitable for the location.
Their plan involves rotating the laying hens in moveable housing and “strip grazing” to protect pasture.
Rebecca told the Free Times they are prepared to go “all the way” to fight any appeal lodged against the council approval of their plan.
“The approval is for 3000 birds, but we may not get to 3000, and we’d be starting with 500,” Rebecca said this week.
“We understand stocking densities and we are confident we have well and truly enough room on the property for what we’re proposing.
“We are also very confident that the screening we will use on the boundaries will help to reduce any impacts, while the trees become established.
“We were quite shocked by the reaction of some of the neighbours – we did think about having them around for a chat and to talk through our plans, but by that stage some had already put in objections, so we thought ‘just leave it’.
“This is a farming area and I don’t see how our plan is any different to having cattle.
“The council wouldn’t have approved (the application) if it wasn’t following the regulations.”
Rebecca said she understood neighbours’ concerns about odour, but said chicken manure breaks down well into the soil and “dries out in the open paddock in the sun”.
Mark grew up in a farming family and is passionate about the couple’s mantra of ‘back to basics farming’ and also preserving rare chicken breeds.
The couple are keen to tap in the booming organic egg market and plan to sell their produce primarily in the local area, but if successful would expand to supply consumers in Toowoomba and Brisbane.
“At the end of the day, we need to grow food for a growing population – where can we do that except in a farming area like this one?” Mark said.
“We are in an extended dry period right now – but if we get some good seasons and some good pasture back, I think the neighbours will be surprised.
“Chooks are good for pasture – we’ll be keeping them moving, there won’t be any bare ground.”