Sunday 5 April 2015

Wild West Planning News

Discovering Carmarthenshire is a website set up by the county council to promote tourism in our county, and as it rightly points out, Carmarthenshire has a great deal to offer:

Travel over breathtaking mountains, through lush, green landscapes and secluded, ancient forests to the vast expanses of our golden sandy beaches. Lose yourself in the solitude of the vast countryside, follow the course of picturesque rivers and visit the stunning locations of our castles.... why not consider making Carmarthenshire YOUR holiday destination?

One destination unlikely to be promoted to visitors is the Cernydd Carmel Site of Special Scientific Interest, even though it is just a short detour off the A48, the route which most visitors to the county take as they head west.

Here is what the Countryside Council for Wales (now part of Natural Resources Wales) has to say about the area:

Cernydd Carmel is of special interest for its diverse range of habitat types which includes woodland, neutral, acidic and marshy grassland, dry and wet heath and mire systems. Additionally, an ephemeral lake at Pant-y-llyn, known as a turlough is an unusual feature in this setting. Caeras quarry, adjacent to Pant-y-llyn, is also of special interest for its pebbly sandstone deposits. Pant-y-llyn turlough is of considerable biological interest. The invertebrate fauna is diverse, with many crustacean species, the lake is also locally important for its large population of toads.

Cernydd Carmel covers 361 hectares, and is considered such an important site that it has also been designated a Special Area of Conservation under EU law.

You would imagine that being both an SSSI and an SAC would be enough to protect Cernydd Carmel from uncontrolled development including large scale quarrying, the construction of roads and as a site for dumping waste and bits of HGVs.

But you would be wrong.

This is what you would have seen if you drove past the site along the B4297 near Maesybont last September:

Note the heavy machinery in the background
Loading up rock
Thousands of tons of soil and rock were removed during this operation and taken to a large area of hard standing a short distance away. The hard standing was also the subject of an enforcement order under which it was supposed to have been returned to farmland, although this has not happened. At some point the rock and soil were then taken away by lorry to an unknown destination.

One lorryload was tracked to Trimsaran, although council officers have repeatedly taken the line that quarrying is for use on the farm only. Whether quarrying is normally permissible in an SAC is another question.

The trees in the upper part of the picture are no more.

Google Maps

The area of hard standing was briefly empty, as can be seen on Google Maps, but is now once again in use as a storage area for shipping containers.

Road and hard standing - Google Maps
And here is a view of a second area of hard standing created to store haylage bales. Ideas of what constitute agricultural vehicles have clearly moved on at Blaenpant, and readers will probably agree that the result is a big improvement on boring old views of unspoiled countryside:

Work on the field eventually ceased after the council issued an enforcement notice, with the council's planning officers declaring that they were satisfied that the land had been returned to a reasonable state.

The problem with issuing enforcement orders in cases like this, rather than ordering work to stop, is that they enable quarrying to continue for up to a month, just as long as the area is then quickly smoothed over when the council officers turn up. Boxes are ticked, and hey presto, the next lot of quarrying can begin.

Earlier this year work resumed, with further large quantities of soil and rock being removed, and the owner has built himself a track across the land (still an SSSI/SAC).

Special Areas of Conservation, such as Cernydd Carmel, are supposed to enjoy a much higher level of protection under the law than SSSIs, as Naturenet explains:

In theory, SACs have a very high degree of protection - certainly higher than a SSSI. A key difference is that for an SSSI, planning authorities have considerable discretion to decide whether or not an application will affect a site, and act accordingly. For an SAC, by contrast, if as a result of an application there is 'likely to be a significant effect' on the designated features of the SAC (i.e. almost anything, including things not within the boundaries of the SAC and the cumulative effect of several separate applications) then the planning authority must obtain an 'appropriate assessment' of the application and its likely effect. However, only if there is 'likely to be a significant effect' on the designated features of the SAC is an appropriate assessment required. 

You might think that stripping an SAC of its trees, vegetation, soil and rock might be classified as "a significant effect", but it seems that Carmarthenshire County Council formed the view that the landowner did not even require planning consent, making an "appropriate assessment" unnecessary.

Before and after pictures show that the entire profile of the land has changed in less than a year. 

When the construction of the track was queried, council officers were clearly left scratching their heads until they hit upon an Ordnance Survey map from 1881 showing a footpath running across part of the site. A minor detail is that the course of the long forgotten footpath and the new roadway are at right angles to each other and lead in entirely different directions.

The footpath is not shown on subsequent Ordnance Survey maps, and seems to have disappeared before the 1901 edition, but the fact that a footpath had existed close by in 1881 was enough to satisfy planning officers that no planning permission was necessary for a road.

A not so ancient footpath

Dairy farmers and other landowners who submit applications for new tracks and put themselves through the expense and frustration of dealing with the planning system may now want to consult ancient maps to see if there were once any footpaths in the general area before going ahead.

There is even better news for any landowner who has the misfortune to own a piece of land designated as an SSSI or SAC because it is now hard to imagine that anything they do to it would constitute a "significant effect".

This part of the area covered by the SAC/SSSI belongs to a local road haulier called Andrew Thomas who also has a sideline in keeping horses.

Mr Thomas will be familiar to readers of this blog (search using the name Breckman), the excellent West Wales News Review and Caebrwyn's chronicle of Carmarthenshire County Council. He also featured in an investigation by the BBC's Week In Week Out documentary series and a damning report by the Ombudsman for Public Services who investigated complaints into the way in which the council had handled planning disputes involving our man.

Those of us who believed that the council's very begrudging acceptance of the Ombudsman's report a couple of years back would mark the beginning of a new chapter with enforcement of planning controls in and around Blaenpant Farm and firm action to end abuses of the system have been proved sadly wrong.

As with so much else involving Carmarthenshire County Council, it's business as usual.


Anonymous said...

What a surprise!

Tessa said...

No clues as to why this vile old man gets away with so much? Friends in high places? A mystery for me, regarding my wrangle in recent years with a horrible development that not only clashed with the character and surroundings (come to Kidwelly and walk the new footpath taking you to the oldest canal in Wales, and see the 40 or so tall white futuristic - bull-shit bingo keyword "sustainable" - properties that obstruct your view between said path and Kidwelly town), deviated from drawings, and even took away my property's legal Right To Light) was explained. Turns out developer is great mates with another local businessman, well-known personality and former player of the Scarlets. Makes no difference to the outcome (my loss as the planning department blamed the fact that my home was not correctly positioned on Ordnance Survey map as used by the developer! You have to laugh!)but it was still good to have an explanation.

Anonymous said...

Utterly appalling.What is going on within planning on gaol hill? Carmarthenshire has the most beautiful of landscapes but something is very wrong here.Certainly it
needs high level of scrutiny.

Anonymous said...

Where is Eifion Bowen Head of Planning in all this.Surely this is in his remit to protect areas of conservation and those of special interest.Looking at the pictures it is incredible that a whole area has been decimated.

Anonymous said...

Where is the Planning Dept in Carmarthenshire on the
Corruption Perception Index.Probably up there with the
Banana Republics.

Anonymous said...

I believe it is time that the responsibility for preservation of Historic Sites or areas of beauty or interest, ought to be reviewed. Maybe a good guideline should be that unless a Local Authority can produce impeccable records of their dealings with such cases then perhaps an 'outside' 'Preservation agency (being also 'outside' the L.A. Listed Buildings officers), should be empowered to make those decisions That way we might really have decisions made by those with a true 'interest' in preservation (not self.)
Sad to say it is possible that too much trust has been incorporated into the present system which appears to leave little alternative but to believe and trust that every L.A. 'will this day do their duty.'
(Or any day?) Impartiality, is so often a better safeguard.

m1books said...

Wonder what Isabel Macho the young biodiversity officer thinks - doubt she even knows. At a recent planning seminar she was spouting NERC - Natural Environment & Rural Communities Act 2006. "Every public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity" Proper exercise..what a joke.

Anonymous said...

After reading cneifiwr's excellent post I have taken a look at the area in question.
Even if a footpath previously existed it is nonsensical to allow a substantial road to be constructed not the footprint.An investigation is essential to understand Carmarthen's planning reasoning in this total disregard for the countryside

Anonymous said...

What,I would like to know,is the purpose of this destructive operation.Does the head of planning know or even care.Where does the road lead and for what kind of vehicles was it constructed? Lots of questions needing answers,hopefully,soon.

Anonymous said...

Re. m1books comments. I looked on line for Isobel Macho and found it ironic to see that our L.A. is receiving funding to care for our 'bogs.'
Strange to read that just as so many comments are being voiced about what sometimes appears to be a LACK of concern by Carmarthenshire planning officers about preservation.
I am rather confused to read on the one hand news of the funding to preserve the bog lands
and on the other a total disregard for other areas which should be protected.
If anyone knows of any future seminars or any public meetings where there would be any Natural Environmental discussion connected with Carmarthenshire then do let us all know.
I do fear that hearing any conservation sentiments from our
own L.A. might get a few resounding replies of "Bog OFF"

Anonymous said...

Old OS maps allow the automatic right to develop do they? How interesting.

Anonymous said...

I find it incredible that certain people are allowed to do whatever they please whilst others are taken to court by this planning authority. Are there two different systems in operation here?

Anonymous said...

Carmarthenshire County Council planning officers are often put in an impossible position by members of the Planning Committee (those members who supposedly must be seen to be impartial and represent the wider interests of the electorate they represent and “avoid impropriety or even the suspicion of impropriety”).

The usual scenario to get an application approved which has been recommended for refusal by the officer is as follows:

The member who wishes to support an application for their friend/business associate/relative first declares an interest to cover themselves from that “suspicion of impropriety”. Under CCC’s constitution they are then still allowed to take part in all deliberations but cannot take part in the vote.

The said member then suggests the consideration of the application would benefit from a site visit (this is invariably the indication that an application recommended for refusal is going to be approved).

At the next planning meeting after the site visit all the officer’s reasons for refusal based on set planning rules and regulations are tossed to one side by the committee, along with numerous letters of objection from local residents, and they obligingly vote for approval. This usually takes place after the said member has first given a lengthy speech extolling the virtues of the applicant.

The officer is then sent away by the committee to make a report supporting approval which of course must contradict his original professional judgement.

So much for the “quasi-judicial nature of the role of the Planning Committee” - Part 5.2 Code of Conduct for Councillors and Officers in Planning Matters. (

Anonymous said...

Come now, surely we are not suggesting that The C.C.C. does not take enforcement action?
Under, "Successful enforcement for Carmarthen planning officers.
(Gwernogle,) you will find that in 2012 such action was taken against Mr.Taylor and Mr. Jenkins for An unlawful "Change of use.".
I believe it was for keeping a Wartime Jeep and other rubbish on the land which was 'Farmland'
That such 'proper' action hit the news is the evidence that The Planning Service officers do their jobs.
We should not knock that, by adding 'sometimes'
However, I believe the time has long passed when proper investigations should have been instigated into just why their actions appear to be so selective?
The comparison of this published enforcement to other much more serious breaches of planning which could appear to be so favoured, are unspeakably mysterious.

Redhead said...

It isn't only Carmarthen. The chair of our Local Plan Committee was also Chair of our local "business and council forum" and had his own planning consultancy. The "forum" just happened to be made up of only local landowners, developers and farmers. InInevitably when an application came from any of them it didn't matter what planners thought - it got through, and our Local Plan now reflects this unholy alliance.

m1books said...

Anon 20.32 I doubt the Planning dept would dare hold a meeting in public – there would be riots. The seminar I attended was ‘consultation’ with town and community councils and other ‘partnerships’. (A number of trees had been lost for all the powerpoint handouts.) The one on enforcement was 23 pages long (one slide on each page! Please…) On this topic there was a lot of Director bashing and some heated discussion, particularly about delays. The Community Scrutiny Committee has a key monitoring role in all this – the number of senior officers involved including solicitors is unbelievable. I gave up listening at one point until I heard this gem – containers in fields are not ‘development’ therefore are permitted! The person next to me nearly had apoplexy. Natural Resources Wales has a Report It section on their website with a long list of ‘environmental crimes’ One of these is damage to SSSI’s...

Anonymous said...

I was appalled by this ongoing damage to a SAC/SSSI - damage to EU designated sites can lead to a suspension of strategic EU funding. Someone in authority ought to report this directly to the EU, and WG at Cardiff, as Andrew Thomas has a history of seriously damaging the Cernydd Carmel SSSI/SAC since c 2005. I know that CCW officers went out to visit him in early 2006 as he had cleared (without proper prior consent from CCW) a lot of invasive scrub on the heathland ridge. His motives were to intensify grazing on this historical landscape but CCW (correctly) deemed that the scrub clearance would actually benefit the important underlying heathland vegetation (such management is regular on nature reserves) and retrospective consent was issued by CCW (as is required for SSSIs). Mr Thomas also said that he would make sure that he complied with proper practice henceforth. However, he then subsequently fertilised the land -effectively destroying the vegetation community for which the SSSI was designated. Furthermore, in the period 2007 to c 2009, further infringements (bulldozing of land, infilling etc) were reported to CCW - and one would have thought that prosecution would have followed - but it did n`t! Whether NRW (CCW`s successor) know of the latest infringements is not said - perhaps they ought to monitor such trouble-spots and visit SSSI landowners more regulary (as they used to do), rather than spending so much time at meetings and in the office. Wake up NRW - you are supposed to now be the all dancing, hyper-efficient new body covering Wales...but it does n`t seem that you don`t know what is happening.

Anonymous said...

Don`t worry folks! I`ve just remembered! Cllr Pam Palmer is the `Biodiversity Champion` for Carmarthenshire...she will sort out the problem.
Trouble is - in spite of the above grandiose title - I`ve heard that she never (or extremely rarely) turns up at the Carmarthenshire Biodiversity Group`s meetings...but - I forget - she`s is very busy. Even `champions` can`t do everything.

Anonymous said...

That suggests there can only be one party (or The Whole of the Planning Committee) responsible for manipulating or 'leaning' upon objectors from within.
My own experience unfortunately is, I'm sorry to say, The best part of 'whole'.
If it is true that all 'inside' objections are overridden then an investigation is even more essential. Public objectors certainly don't stand a chance under that regime. Any regime which might be 'forcing' their own staff into believing they have no alternative but to break their OWN personal code of conduct (let alone that of council rules.) could only expect to be accused of corruption..
There must be many people who do have the information which could start an investigation.
I do accept that "It is easy to be brave when far away from danger" but perhaps someone will soon remember, "Evil flourishes when good men do nothing."

Anonymous said...

The site in question would have been teeming with wildlife - no more! The excavations would have to be 'reasonably necessary for agriculture' - clearly they were not as the site has never operated any form of agriculture. Who else would the planners search archive material for, looking for a way to excuse someone from having to apply for planning permissions? The excuse from the council relative to the track showing on an 1881 OS map is ludicrous as we could be opening up old footpaths across rail tracks and motorways.
The construction of the road also has to be reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture. Clearly there is no reasonable purpose as again this site is not an agricultural one. Tractors most certainly do not need such roads. Seems more likely this road has been built for lorries - bearing in mind that this is this particular persons business.

Shameful abuse all round.

Needs thorough investigations.

Anonymous said...

Re.Comment by 'Anonymous'(09.14)am
"Decisions by the Members Of THE Planning Committee."
What concerns me most are the cases which are not put before the committee. Who decides which case has the decision made virtually in private behind closed doors by two or three Planning officers?
I use the description of 'Private' as in comparison to openly before a committee.
Those cases could not be influenced by pressure from 'The Committee' It seems as if Planning officers do have the powers to keep some applications well away from The Committee.
Who could ever say if my suspicion could be correct about some those multiple cases which don't even reach 'Committee'?
Might they be the very applications which are the least deserving and could well be met with a (Deserved) refusal?
If so, might that suggest an unusual desire to protect that application from scrutiny?.

Anonymous said...

The culture existing in the planning department of Carmarthen Council is well known.When we talk of abuse of the system we do not mean only unscrupulous applicants.I suppose it could be argued why should they not "have a go" and see what happens.If officers are prepared to pick and choose on whom to serve enforcement and bend the rules for others they might be lucky.