A farmer who is is being paid almost £1.5million of public money to stop rearing pigs does not even own the animals on his land.
MailOnline told last week how James Daniels was getting the cash windfall as part of a plan to loosen planning constraints and allow up to 5,000 new homes to be built in Norfolk.
In return, he must agree to no longer keep pigs on his fields at Markshall Farm either side of the A47 bypass south of Norwich to stop harmful nutrients flowing into two nearby rivers.
But it can now be revealed that the estimated 2,000 pigs reared each year on his farm belong to a company called Norfolk Free Range Ltd which rents the land from him.
The company which rears pigs at around 40 sites across East Anglia is ultimately owned by self-made millionaire farmers Steve and Sally Ann Hart.
The company behind the farm rears pigs at around 40 sites across East Anglia
The company behind the farm is owned by Steve Hart (left) who was previously crowned pig farmer of the year. James Daniels, who is being paid £1.5million not to raise pigs on his farm, does not even own the pigs himself
In a bizarre twist to the story, it potentially means there is nothing to stop Mr and Mrs Hart rearing the same number of pigs on another piece of land in Norfolk.
An outraged local villager who asked not to be named said: ‘People were concerned about James Daniels making a fortune by not having pigs on his land any more.’But the fact that those pigs are owned by someone else and could simply be moved elsewhere, means they will still be producing the same amount of nutrients.
‘It turns the whole thing into a box ticking exercise because the net environmental gain could be absolutely nil. It is just green washing.’
Mr Hart, a former national Pig Farmer of the year, admitted that he rented the land at Markshall Farm, and only found out about his landlord’s huge payout when he read news reports about it last Friday.
Speaking to MailOnline while he was tending to some of his pigs with his daughter, he insisted that he would not be a beneficiary of Mr Daniels’ windfall.
Asked what would happen to his pigs, he said: ‘I have not seen him. I don’t yet know what will happen. It was news to me and I don’t know anything about it. I have not seen or heard from James since that article.’
Mr Hart, 63, who lives with his wife in a palatial Grade Two listed Elizabethan manor house in west Norfolk, declined to comment further, saying: ‘Honestly, I’m up to my eyes in it at the minute I’m afraid.’
Earlier his wife, speaking from their 16th century home, admitted it was possible that they could find an alternative site to raise the same number of pigs.
Mrs Hart, 53, said: ‘We are tenants. It’s not our land. It’s all a bit odd isn’t it. We’re not gaining anything out of it.
‘We always rent land because we move pigs all the time. Farmers love us because we provide the muck and its good for the land, but we are constantly moving farms and sites.
Mr Hart, a former national Pig Farmer of the year, admitted that he rented the land at Markshall Farm, and only found out about his landlord’s huge payout when he read news reports about it last Friday
There is nothing to stop Mr and Mrs Hart rearing the same number of pigs on another piece of land in Norfolk
Former grain trader Mr Hart launched his pig empire with the last £500 in his pocket in the early 1990s
The deal is part of a move to reduce the amount of harmful nutrients flowing into waterways in Norfolk
A covenant is to stop James Daniels pig farming on his land which sits by the A47 bypass south of Norwich
Under a directive issued last year, local authorities are obliged to find ways to ‘offset’ the impact of pollution on waterways caused by new developments
‘There is only a certain time that pigs can be on the land because they root it up. It is all part of crop rotation. We must have 40 sites and thousands of pigs.’
Companies House records show that Mr and Mrs Hart are directors and owners of Hart Farms Holdings Ltd which in turn owns Norfolk Free Range Ltd.
The latest accounts for Hart Farms Holdings Ltd for the year ending in January 2022 show that it paid out dividends to its shareholders of nearly £4.4million during the year.
The accounts reveal the company had a turnover of more than £29million and made a gross profit of nearly £9million, although it actually made an operating loss of £1.1million after costs and operating expenses.
Former grain trader Mr Hart launched his pig empire with the last £500 in his pocket in the early 1990s.
He won the Farmers Weekly title of Pig Farmer of the Year in 2016 for his commitment to animal welfare when he swapped his overalls for a dinner suit to accept the award from Fiona Bruce at a glittering ceremony.
Mr Daniels is getting his payout under a Government directive last year which obliges local authorities to find ways to ‘offset’ the impact of pollution on waterways caused by new developments.
The so-called move towards ‘nutrient neutrality’ was hailed by environmentalists who argued it would limit the amount of damaging substances in rivers and lakes, such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
The government attempted to stop the ‘reckless’ plan, arguing it would hold up much needed housebuilding but it was forced through the House of Lords by Labour and Lib Dem peers.
The huge deal in Norfolk has now raised concerns that farmers elsewhere will be paid to effectively sit on their hands, while the UK’s food security – the amount of homegrown produce available for our tables – will be further weakened.
Covenants will limit Mr Daniels, 66, to using the land for arable crops, hay, or sowing it with grass seed or wildflowers
Markshall Farm rears up to 2,000 pigs every year, producing nutrients that run into two nearby rivers
The fields will no longer be used for pig farming under the terms of the deal
Nutrient neutrality was brought in under EU planning rules
Local authorities cannot approve new developments in some areas unless they offset the environmental impact caused by new homes, including increased sewage and detergents from washing machines.
Councils have been looking for schemes that meet this requirement – and Norfolk’s solution was to pay Mr Daniels to not have pigs on his land and therefore stop polluting waterways.
The authorities will pay him through a company called Norfolk Environmental Credits Ltd, a joint venture between Norfolk councils and Anglian Water.
But it is hoped that money can be clawed back from developers, who will pay NEC Ltd for environmental ‘credits’ giving them the right to build their housing schemes.
Mr Daniels told the Mail last week that people thought he was receiving an ‘obscene amount of money’ for ‘quitting’ his job but he insisted he was ‘doing everyone a favour’ by helping the environment.
He said: ‘It really makes me angry when people say I’m profiting from this. It’s compensation for giving everything up.
‘I’m the second generation of my family on this farm after my father got it in 1950. My son wanted to take it over.’
Covenants will limit Mr Daniels, 66, to using the land for arable crops, hay, or sowing it with grass seed or wildflowers.
He added it would become a haven for nature, saying: ‘The money… is only going to pay me for eight to ten years worth of putting pigs on there. That was my living.’
But independent South Norfolk councillor Clayton Hudson said: ‘My concern is about openness and transparency, with this potential use of public money.
‘And I’m not sure stopping a pig farmer from putting nutrients in the system only to replace that with more development solves the issue.’
Nutrient neutrality was brought in under EU planning rules. Natural England issued a directive last year which stated that housebuilding could not proceed in 27 catchment areas across England unless offsetting was put in place.
The Government’s attempt to ditch the scheme was prevented by the Lords last month which voted 192 to 161 against scrapping it.
Labour and Lib Dem peers were joined by three Tory peers to block the move.
Prior to the vote in the House of Lords, Housing Secretary Michael Gove and Environment Secretary Therese Coffey had been pushing to end what they called ‘defective’ EU laws which require developers to offset any extra nutrient pollution they cause in sensitive areas.
The local authorities are borrowing millions to lend to NEC Ltd for the mitigation schemes.
Phil Courtier, director of place at Broadland and South Norfolk District Councils, said: ‘We are on the cusp of finalising a deal that will be the first of its kind in the country to release a significant number of homes and improve the environmental quality of the [Norfolk] Broads and the river Wensum.’
South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller and Breckland District Council counterpart Sam Chapman-Allen previously criticised the offsetting scheme, claiming it was putting 41,000 homes on hold across the county.
Mr Fuller added it meant organisations like Defra, Natural England and water companies were able to avoid doing their job to clean up rivers and instead could ‘pass the buck to councils, which lack the powers, responsibility and enforcement powers to do so’.
But Gareth Dalglish, Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s director of nature recovery, said: ‘Any weakening of environmental protections would have a devastating effect on our Norfolk rivers, streams and wildlife – already under huge pressure from sewage and farm pollution.’
And Green county councillor Jamie Osborn added: We need better regulation to prevent the dumping of toxic waste into our rivers, not a free pass for developers to pollute then even more.’