The landowner owned both the land at the top of the cliff and a site beneath it where he ran a caravan sales business. Taking matters into his own hands, he used a JCB to re-profile the top of the cliff, removing a large chunk of the archaeological site.
A planning officer and the horrified archaeologist were dispatched to find out what had happened, reminding the landowner that this was a site protected by law.
Producing his trump card, the landowner said that his planning consultant and solicitor had been having sleepless nights because of the health and safety risk to customers of the caravan business who could be struck by falling stone from the cliff face.
The council's solicitors concluded that a prosecution was likely to be both costly and unsuccessful. What was left of the temple and any other remains had gone after 2,000 years, carted off by lorries.
In some cases, my friend said, damage to protected sites was so severe that they had lost their protected status, and where culprits had been taken to court, fines were often modest. Sometimes hard nuts would refuse to pay the fines and would spend a couple of months in prison, after which the courts usually deemed that they had paid their debt to society.
Planning authorities and agencies such as Natural Resources Wales often feel similarly impotent in the face of actions by landowners who know how to play the system, but in Carmarthenshire the county council appears to have hit on a novel approach to such problems.
Rather than create difficulties by trying to enforce planning regulations, why not weave a narrative arguing that the applicant is doing a wonderful job of restoring their property and creating a successful business? If the landowner has already carried out the work without bothering to put in a planning application first, you can simply suggest that they might like to apply retrospectively, and everything will be all right.
This is what has happened at a modest smallholding called Ffynnon Luan near Maesybont. Here is the planning officer's report.
Ffynnon Luan appeared on this blog before after a spectacular fire in a large pile of tyres and timber on the night of 5th November 2015 left the taxpayer with a bill of nearly £30,000, no questions asked.
The owner of Ffynnon Luan, Mr Andrew Thomas, has also featured numerous times on this blog as the owner of nearby Blaenpant Farm where his activities since acquiring the property in 2001 have created a lot of work for the council's planning department, Natural Resources Wales, the police, the Ombudsman for Public Services, VOSA, various other agencies, the courts and members of the legal profession.
The key to Mr Thomas's successful transformation of Blaenpant from a quiet rural backwater enjoying protected status as a SSSI and European Special Area of Conservation into an industrial wasteland has been his exploitation of the planning status of Blaenpant as an agricultural holding, even though nothing resembling agriculture goes on there, apart from breeding horses and dogs.
Mr Thomas's main business interests are road haulage and quarrying, with occasional forays into scrap metal.
The latest row at Blaenpant has been rumbling on for a couple of years now after Mr Thomas started quarrying and building a network of roads on the protected site, and a planning application (retrospective, of course) for the "agricultural track" has been held up while the council and Natural Resources Wales wring their hands and work out a way forward.
Despite Mr Thomas's wrecking of a part of the SSSI/SAC at Cernydd Carmel, the authorities have ruled out a prosecution and concluded that restoration of the site is not feasible. Instead, they have been negotiating a management plan to protect what is left, with rules governing the numbers of horses kept on the land, the times of year they may graze, etc.
Nobody familiar with the turbulent history of Blaenpant believes that the management plan will be honoured, apart from the council and NRW, of course, but in return for a signature Mr Thomas will get retrospective planning for his roads which are, of course, purely for agricultural use.
Unlike Blaenpant, Ffynnon Luan is not a protected site, but like Blaenpant it lies on commercially valuable limestone, and like Blaenpant the planning department is proceeding on the basis that it is an agricultural holding.
When Mr Thomas acquired it in 2014, Ffynnon Luan was in a sorry state. The house was dilapidated, and the fields neglected. Renovation and extension of the house have been proceeding, and Mr Thomas has constructed a 550 metre stretch of tarmac road across the fields.
Planning applications have to be considered on their individual merit, meaning that Mr Thomas's history down the road at Blaenpant would not be regarded as relevant to his new venture. Fair enough, but the planning officer's report paints a glowing picture of Mr Thomas's heroic endeavours to breathe life back into Ffynnon Luan.
It is unfortunately true, the officer notes, that the application is retrospective, and there are some minor quibbles about the removal of "significant lengths of hedgerow" contrary to the Hedgerow Regulations 1997, and the importation of "unauthorised materials" onto the site, but these are subject to separate investigations, and clearly not something which should stand in the way of a ringing endorsement.
Mr Thomas is, we are told, pursuing a "genuine attempt" to restore Ffynnon Luan as a working farm. All 35 acres of it. The 550 metres of road are "field access" to be used only by HGVs delivering feedstuffs, agricultural implements and transporting livestock.
The council's Head of Transport agreed, arguing that "the proposed access is better than using the existing access which would lead to HGV lorries and agricultural vehicles travelling through a narrow back lane". How all these HGVs and agricultural vehicles would get to Ffynnon Luan avoiding public roads is a mystery, as is why such a small holding would generate so much traffic.
Members of the planning committee were told that it was Mr Thomas's intention to keep sheep and beef cattle at Ffynnon Luan. 35 acres of rough grazing would support a small flock of sheep and a few cattle, and according to the planning officer's report, the land is already being grazed.
Another eye popping feature of the planning officer's report is the revelation that the applicant has been in discussion with the council over plans to build sheds and a "slurry lagoon" at Ffynnon Luan.
Mr Thomas managed to build two enormous sheds down the road at Blaenpant using agriculture as the justification despite lack of evidence then or now of any genuine agricultural operations at the site, and it emerged at an inquiry in 2009 that the farm had in fact been used as a depot for his HGV business.
As for a slurry lagoon, how many 35 acre smallholdings with a few sheep and, possibly at some future date, a handful of cattle, warrant one of those? Unless Mr Thomas is planning to buck industry trends and go into dairy farming on a surprisingly large scale for a smallholding, it is hard to imagine what use the lagoon will see, unless it is for storing something else, such as scrap or stone.
Presented with this some councillors clearly had their suspicions and called for a site visit. They lost by a single vote, and the application was then duly passed, with the support of the local member, veteran Independent Wyn Evans.
As pointed out ad nauseam on this blog previously, genuine farmers who try to abide by the law and play by the rules must be left wondering why they bother. Equally gobsmacked will be the likes of Mr Andrew Redman whose mobile horse shelter in a field near Broad Oak incurred the full wrath of the council's planning officers. Mr Redman was taken to court by the council on three separate occasions for this outrage, and is still trying to extricate himself from the nightmare.
|A highly illegal shed|
|A perfectly legal road with some unfortunate hedge destruction and importation of unauthorised materials|
to be used for agriculture, and definitely not for commercial quarrying
The council's former head of planning, Eifion Bowen, author of countless controversial planning decisions, is now enjoying an early retirement, but the early indications are that nothing much has changed under his successor.
Pictures courtesy of West Wales News Review.