Council postpones decision on Co Antrim medical cannabis farm

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The decision has been deferred by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s Planning Committee on the change of use of an industrial unit outside Templepatrick for the production, cultivation and processing of medicinal cannabis plants.

The committee agreed to postpone a decision until its February meeting to obtain further information, and the applicant Rickamore Ltd was told there would be no further extensions.

Speaking at the Planning Committee this week, Alliance councillor Billy Webb proposed the deferral saying: “It is an important facility. We need to have all information before us.”

His proposal was seconded by DUP councillor Sam Flanagan.

The committee was told the officer’s recommendation was to refuse the application for the proposal at Rickamore Road Upper.

A report to councillors said: “Given the nature of the proposal, the environmental health section was consulted and its response requested the submission of an Odour Impact Assessment and a Noise Impact Assessment.

“Environmental health have concluded that without suitable odour modelling having been undertaken, uncertainty exists as to whether the suggested filtration designs will be effective in preventing adverse odour impacts at nearby sensitive dwellings.

“In the absence of a suitable Odour Impact Assessment and Noise Impact Assessment, it is considered that the proposal has the potential to create significant unacceptable impacts on nearby neighbouring properties in respect of odour and noise.”

A council officer told the meeting of “potential to create significant impact on neighbouring properties”.

Planning agent Mark Campbell said: “We are determined to make this facility an efficient and earth-friendly environment.”

Mr Flanagan queried the choice of location. He was told that it was selected as it had been the site of an established business.

Previously, it had been an egg production facility and also used for fireworks storage.

Mr Campbell added: “For this sort of facility, an industrial site would lead to concerns from a security point of view.”

He went on to say the company “did not expect these concerns to be raised at this part of the application … We have a strategy to provide a clean environment within this facility.”

He added his client has been engaging with the Home Office about how risks will be mitigated.

Peter Reynolds, who said he is “very familiar with these facilities in the UK”, told the meeting this type of cannabis cultivation has been taking place in the UK since 1998 saying there has “never been any complaints about odour”.

“This is not about people smoking cannabis. These are medicines in a form of oil or medical vaporiser like an inhaler. It is the fastest growing business sector in the world. If approved, then Templepatrick will be right at the leading edge of this sector.

“Everybody knows that cannabis has a pungent odour. It is the first issue that is dealt with. Carbon filters have been designed to deal with this.

“You can stand outside a facility and not smell a single thing. I am absolutely confident that will be the position here. It is not like a farm. It is more like lab conditions.”

He noted it would be the first of its kind on the island of Ireland. He went on to say with carbon filters in place, there will be “no odours outside”.

He added there would only be noise from air conditioning units which he believes would not be heard from the road.

The DUP’s John Smyth asked how the cannabis is grown.

Mr Reynolds explained cuttings are taken from “a number of mother plants” and that an extract is then taken from the plants and unused matter is disposed of by composting,

Mr Webb asked about the locations of similar facilities. He was informed some are in industrial estates and others are in remote locations.

Principal planning officer Barry Diamond said not enough information had been received about noise and odour. “We must have whatever information we need to make a full and proper assessment at this stage.”

Councillors Robert Foster and Alison Bennington and Mr Smyth voted against the deferral.

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