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|
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.
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|
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.