Our home stinks with the smell of silage from the farm next door. What can we do?

Property Clinic: Certain noises and smells are an unavoidable part of running a farm

Day-to-day farming activities produce varying levels of noises and smells that are unavoidable. File photograph: Getty

Day-to-day farming activities produce varying levels of noises and smells that are unavoidable. File photograph: Getty

 

I live in a rural area in an old farmhouse that had been sold off from a working farm years earlier. There was a small out-farm adjacent to the property which was visited by the elderly farmers perhaps once day, if at all. The activity on the out-farm did not disturb us more than a couple of times per year and we lived a fairly-peaceful existence for close to a decade. Since the elderly farmers died, another local farmer has taken over. We are on friendly terms with him, but I fear this is going to deteriorate rapidly.

In the last 12 months he has demolished the two small sheds in the out-farm and constructed a huge shed in their place, now including a silage pit and dairy which were not there previously. The shed is not much more than 30m from our house. We now have a constant stream of traffic including trucks, agricultural vehicles and cars passing, often starting at 7am. Machinery is usually left idling and noisy equipment is operated frequently. This added to the noise of windblown plastic and bellowing cattle. We now have a constant smell of silage, slurry or molasses in various proportions and need to resort to air fresheners within our house. Slurry tankers have been parked up at the boundary wall, just 5m from our house.

The redevelopment of the farm was carried out without planning permission; the farmer considers it exempt because of the pre-existing sheds. We feel our home has been devalued both in monetary terms and our ability to have a quality of life there. We feel completely trapped by what has been forced upon us. What are our options before we go nuclear and make a planning complaint?

Patrick Shine writes: The scenario you outline is a stark reminder of the reality of living at certain locations in the countryside. The situation in which you find yourself is a fairly typical example of the result of the trend in recent decades towards fewer but increasingly intensive farm enterprises.

From your description, this development is consistent with a milking shed, silage pit and standard type slatted cattle shed over underground effluent tanks. The contents of these tanks, both slurry and silage effluent, are likely to be the source of the more obnoxious smells especially when removed from the tanks and spread on land. Prior to removal it is put through an agitation process to reverse the segregation caused by settlement. The agitation process produces high levels of noise and smells. It releases gasses including hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, methane and carbon monoxide, some of which are lethal at high concentrations. The subsequent spreading generates varying levels of noise and the level of smells varies with wind direction and distance. There are numerous associated day-to-day activities involving heavy machinery, silage and livestock which produce varying levels of noises and smells but all are an unavoidable part of running such a farm enterprise.

You should first make an inquiry at the local authority planning office about the planning regulations applicable to this type of development. Informed accordingly, I suggest that you then explain to the farmer that your living conditions have become intolerable and that you will need to take action to mitigate the effects of the level of noise and smells in your home unless he can take effective measures. However, while consultation is advisable and desirable, I believe that, apart from avoiding leaving engines running unnecessarily and keeping his machinery away from your boundary, there is little he can do. He has made a big investment in a business that has high operating expenses.

However, he cannot ignore planning regulations. Part 3 of the Planning and Development Regulations, 2001, sets out 17 classes of exempted rural development. Based on your brief description, his development appears to be in classes 6 and 8. Accordingly, to be exempt from planning permission, both the shed and the effluent storage should be at least 100m from a neighbouring house, considerably more than the 30m you mention. There are also building size limits for exemption. The replacement of small sheds is unlikely to obviate the requirement for planning permission. It therefore appears that this development is in breach of planning regulations.

The planning laws exist to ensure proper planning and development. This includes the protection of the environment in which we live. To achieve reasonable air quality and to reduce the level of noise at your home you may, as you suggest, have to make a planning complaint.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may also have a role and will liaise with local authorities in relation to investigating air quality and noise complaints.

A complaint to the local authority planning office should be made in the first instance however, and within seven years of the commencement of the development. If there is evidence of environmental pollution and you feel you are making no progress with your local authority, you should then contact the EPA which will investigate whether the matter has been dealt with adequately. The EPA will not become involved until the local authority has been given an opportunity to investigate your complaint.

Patrick Shine is a chartered geomatics surveyor and a chartered civil engineer and a member of SCSI, scsi.ie

This article was edited on July 9th

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