Director of cheese factory dedicated to being a ‘good neighbour’ following complaints about noise and odour

THE director of a mozzarella factory which supports 140 dairy farmers has insisted he wants to be a good neighbour following complaints from a small number of people about noise and odour.

Steve Welch, of Dairy Partners Ltd, said acoustic barriers were installed in February to dampen the noise of liquid natural gas (LNG) deliveries at the site in Aberarad, near Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthenshire. He said the company employed 75 people and served a growing market. “We’re expanding – that’s an indicator of our success,” he said.

Environment regulator Natural Resources Wales (NRW) had visited three months earlier, in December 2023, and found that the noise of pressurised LNG deliveries did not comply with Dairy Partners’ site permit. The NRW officer’s report said there was “an offensive and continual tonal noise originating from the direction of LNG tanker and LNG tank”, but no odour problem was detected.

NRW issued what’s known as a compliance assessment report in February this year requiring the company to take action. The regulator said this wasn’t the same as a formal enforcement notice, and that it was continuing to monitor noise and undertaking “detailed dialogue” with Dairy Partners.

Mr Welch said the LNG supplier it had been using exited the market last autumn. This supplier, he said, had a “silent” gravity-fed tanker which took six to eight hours to complete its delivery. He said all the available alternative LNG suppliers used a pressurised delivery system which was quicker, reduced the risk of spillage and was more economically viable. The company switched to the pressurised delivery system, which led to complaints about the accompanying noise.

Mr Welch said Dairy Partners tried using different tankers and built a wooden pallet stack to try to mitigate noise before investing in the sound-dampening panels, which he said made a big difference. He added that Dairy Partners was working with NRW to modify its site permit to reflect the use of the pressurised LNG deliveries.

Site manager Daryl White said liquid natural gas powered the factory and that there was one delivery per week during daytime hours between Monday and Friday, lasting one hour.

Dairy Partners measures the decibel level of LNG deliveries and Mr Welsh said the noise rated as “moderate to soft” when heard at the nearby roadside. A resident living just across the road, Megan Ceiriog-Jones, said she had recorded a higher decibel level, and that the sound of other operations such as night-time “venting” which she had recorded on video were disruptive. “The noise videos are just a sample of noise complaints that are sent to NRW on a regular basis,” she said.

Dairy Partners said further noise-dampening measures would be added as a condition of planning approvals for wastewater and cleaning tanks which were decided by Carmarthenshire Council’s planning committee last month. A handful of objectors opposed the retrospective applications, including Ms Ceiriog-Jones and Stephen Rees, who both addressed the committee. Ms Ceiriog-Jones said the effects of “noise and sleeplessness are hard to quantify”, while Mr Rees said the reality for residents living by the cheese factory was “considerable disruption”. Ward councillor Hazel Evans addressed the committee to say that Dairy Partners was a large contributor to the local economy and that she was reassured by the many planning conditions proposed by the planning department. She said she understood that some nearby residents weren’t happy, although they didn’t wish to see the factory close.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mr Welch said the company logged all complaints, had attempted to talk to Ms Ceiriog-Jones, and wanted to have a positive relationship. He said: “We want to be good neighbours.”

Mr Welch said cheese had been made at the site since 1938, with previous owners including Canadian firms Saputo and McCain Foods, and an Egyptian family business.

Site manager Mr White said the factory was “on its knees” when Dairy Partners took over in 2013 and began investing in it and increasing production.

Every year around 200 million litres of milk arrives at the site from 140 nearby dairy farms. Nine hours after arriving the milk is turned into 2.5kg blocks of mozzarrella cheese, with the separated whey sent to another company where it is dried and sold in powdered sports nutrition products. Cream is also produced at the Aberarad site.

“Making cheese is really technical,” said Mr Welch, who is one of three Dairy Partners directors. “You’te taking milk and turning it into a stretchable cooking product which has a lot of different characteristics. You’re manipulating proteins, sugars and minerals in a reproducible product.”

Varying levels of salt can be added to the cheese blocks, which move slowly along a tray system in a brine solution before being packaged ready for onward delivery. Around a third of it ends up overseas in countries including Lebanon and China.

Mr Welch said the site produced around 22,000 tonnes of mozzarella and pizza cheese per year, and that it hoped to expand this to as much as 35,000 tonnes. He said the 75 jobs were highly skilled and that many more indirect jobs relied on the site. Mr White said haulage business Mansel Davies & Son had around 40 drivers who delivered to and collected from the Aberarad site.

Dairy Partners, which also has a base in Gloucestershire where its cheese is shredded, has an annual turnover of around £140 million. “The market is expanding – we can’t keep up,” said Mr Welch. “We’ve got to keep producing, and we are never going to be silent.”

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