A TEIFI Valley creamery which churns out 400 tonnes of pizza cheese each week has received numerous noise and odour complaints and been criticised for a new waste treatment plant which was built without planning permission.
A spokesman for the Dairy Partners Ltd site in Aberarad, near Newcastle Emlyn, said complaints have been addressed and that it had had to take action because the previous treatment equipment was failing, causing significant extra costs and river water quality concerns.
Some people living close to the facility, which accepts 500,000 litres of milk each day from farms within 50 miles, claimed it has been expanding without sufficient checks and balances and that the noise and smells emanating from it were negatively affecting their well-being.
The residents, none of whom wanted to be named, said they wondered how the effluent treatment plant had been built without permission from Carmarthenshire Council and a permit variation from regulator Natural Resources Wales (NRW), and were also concerned about the presence of a large open aeration tank.
NRW said there have been 380 complaints about the site in 2022 and 2023, mostly about noise and odour. The regulator has taken enforcement action and continues to have flood risk concerns – based on modelling data – about the new effluent treatment plant.
One of the residents said: “We just suffer with it and we’ve had enough. The smell is unbearable in the summer time. It’s 100% affecting our quality of life.” But he stressed that nobody wanted the creamery shut down.
Residents also claimed there was a “cacophony” of noise from various on-site equipment, including a siren sound when liquefied natural gas was delivered, and that this sometimes occurred at night.
They said they had approached Dairy Partners with their concerns and that improvements were sometimes made, but that they were only temporary. One resident described the production site as a formerly local dairy and creamery which was now “of a different scale altogether”.
Carmarthenshire Council said it gave Dairy Partners pre-planning application advice in 2019 about its proposed new effluent treatment plant. The company, it said, was advised not to continue work at an early stage while the area for the treatment plant was being cleared.
But work to build the treatment plant did go ahead, leading to an enforcement complaint, but the council said no enforcement site visits were taking place at the time due to Covid lockdowns. In normal circumstances, it said, a site visit may potentially have led to a temporary stop being put on the work.
Dairy Partners submitted a retrospective planning application to the council in 2020 after the new treatment plant was completed. Three years on and this application, with NRW still objecting on flood risk grounds, hasn’t come before the council’s planning committee for determination.
NRW said the effluent treatment plant was built and operated without the necessary environmental permit approval, but that the permit had been varied in March this year to incorporate the facility.
Asked what enforcement action had, if any, been taken since 2020, NRW said it had issued two warning letters to Dairy Partners for permit breaches, a formal caution for “milk effluent discharge” from an authorised area, and four non-compliance notices, two of which remain under investigation. NRW said the permit has conditions relating to noise and odour and that there were noise restrictions at night.
Erin Smyth-Evans, NRW industry and waste regulation team leader, said: “We issue environmental permits for businesses to carry out certain activities that have the potential to pollute or harm the environment.
“Where we have become aware of changes being made at Dairy Partners Ltd without our knowledge, or have received reports of suspected pollution in nearby watercourses, we have investigated and where necessary taken enforcement steps to ensure the business is operating in compliance with their permit.”
Dairy Partners’ planning application for the effluent treatment plant described how the previous system dealt with liquid and solid waste from the cheese-making process, with solid waste ending up in a “sludge tank” before being emptied by road tanker while treated waste water was transferred by pipe and discharged into the River Teifi. The company said it had to stop those discharges due to problems with its equipment and resulting water quality concerns, meaning yet more tankers arriving to take the waste water away by road.
A Dairy Partners spokesman said the new £2 million effluent treatment plant was one of the most technically-advanced of its kind and had helped secure the future of the site.
He said: “Although we respect the planning system, if we had waited for planning to process our application the future of the dairy, along with the site near Stroud (Gloucestershire), would have been brought into question.” Such an outcome, he said, would have resulted in the loss of 200 skilled jobs and apprenticeships at both sites and put 140 dairy farms under threat.
The spokesman said neighbours had been consulted before the new treatment plant was built at the Aberarad creamery, and that as a result of these discussions the location of the proposed plant was moved a little further away from people living closest to it. He said the aeration tank had to be open to allow compressed air to escape into the atmosphere and that independent testing had not detected an odour issue linked to it.
He said further odour testing between 2021 and 2022 led to action being taken by the company, that NRW were “fully engaged in the process”, and that Dairy Partners answered odour complaints on the same day they were made.
The spokesman added that the company made every effort to be a good neighbour, and that the vast majority of vehicle movements were between 6am and 7pm. He said additional sound-proofing investment had been made despite a noise survey in 2020 not detecting a problem.
Asked about NRW’s enforcement actions and the volume of complaints received, the spokesman said it reflected to an extent Dairy Partners’ 24/7 operation and that it tried to “establish root cause wherever possible”. He claimed the vast majority of complaints were from one resident. He also said that Dairy Partners was confident in being able to address NRW’s flood risk concerns
The company has a separate planning application in with the council to replace cleaning tanks at the creamery and install a concrete “bund” around them. Previous applications to install a tanker unloading bay and 13 new silos – plus a new liquefied natural gas power source – were approved in 2017. Meanwhile, more than 100 people living near the company’s factory near Stroud have signed a petition claiming that noise is an issue.