Friday 29 May 2015

Yet more planning effluent (updated)


See "Emotional Intelligence" below for an important correction to the Maesybont story. A further post with an interesting new development will follow shortly.


Planning stories seem to be like London buses at the moment. Here are updates on three long-running sagas.


Six interlinked applications to redevelop this heavily contaminated site and surrounding areas with a mix of housing, retail and leisure facilities and a school were put on hold in April after an intervention by the Welsh Government, much to the surprise and annoyance of the council and the developer, a hugely rich Tory peer.

Why they should have been surprised is anyone's guess because the council and the developer had previously fought a government veto on developing the site in the courts and lost, and because a large chunk of the site is outside the county's shiny new Local Development Plan, and would have had to go to Cardiff for final approval anyway.

As far as is known, the Section 18 stop order is still in place, and it seems the council has not applied to have it lifted. Nevertheless, members of the planning committee are due to go down to Burry Port to inspect the site, and the applications have been re-submitted for their approval consideration on 2 June.

The reports accompanying the six applications are vast and repetitive, with numerous references to the Welsh Government's Wales Spatial Plan which envisaged the redevelopment of the coastal area stretching from Port Talbot to Llanelli. This is presumably there to reassure planning committee members that this 2002 (updated in 2008) mood music from Cardiff trumps any detailed planning niggles.

A site visit is curious as is not likely to change the environmental designation of the estuary under TAN 5  - Nature Conservation and Planning (2009) which seeks to ensure that protected species, habitats and designated sites are both protected and conserved by the planning system. Neither will the planning committee be able to overturn the continuing prosecution of the UK in the European Court under the Urban Waste Water Directive, conceded as an infringement by the UK government. Nor will planning committee members be able to turn the clock back and address the council's failure to inform the Government as to deliberation of a site of more than 150 homes outside the LDP, or the use of a report not suitable for 3rd party use, on which the planning committee was to rely to approve a major decontamination of the site.

The scheme is also supported by Burry Port Town Council which will have been disappointed to learn that promises made back in 2008 of generous contributions from the developers to local schemes have now been drastically scaled back, with the halving of a £700,000 contribution to Burry Port and the scrapping of a £200,000 contribution towards the upkeep of the Memorial Park, as you can read in the Llanelli Herald here.

One of the major concerns of opponents of the scheme is the impact that building large numbers of new houses will have on the already creaking sewerage system, likely to lead to more discharges of raw effluent, industrial waste and other nasties into the Loughor estuary and the seas off our coast.

This week's Carmarthenshire Herald contains an excellent two page explanation of this issue, beginning with a warning that Carmarthenshire County Council could be facing fines of up to £1 million per day for failing to tackle the problem.

Cllr Bill Thomas (Lab) is quoted at some length, and he is particularly scornful of the refusal of chief executive, Mark James, to acknowledge that there is anything wrong. According to Cllr Thomas, Mr James apparently believes that clean water kills cockles.

As usual, worth 50p of anyone's money.

One of the abiding mysteries of this scheme is the extent of the council's own interest in the re-development of the core site, which was sold off to Castletown Estates Ltd, and why the council has been so keen to help the developer fight its legal battles against the Welsh Government.

Aldi in Newcastle Emlyn

As previously reported, litigation is now pending in this long-standing development.

It will be recalled that two supermarket schemes were approved for this small town. Unusually, the Castle Cars (now Aldi) scheme attracted many more letters of support than it did objections. Down the road at the nearby Cawdor Cars site, proposals attracted a huge number of objections from the public and only a trickle of letters of support.

But unlike Tory peers living in Ireland and operating through tax havens, the views of locals were swept aside by planning officers and a Labour/Independent majority on the planning committee, with accusations subsequently made (and denied) that Pam Palmer, the Independent leader, had instructed her troops to support the Cawdor plan.

In the event, both applications were approved, although many locals noted how the Castle Cars development was made to jump through many more planning hoops than the rival scheme. One of the most glaring examples of the difference in treatment was monitoring traffic flows. Although the Cawdor site is close to an extremely busy junction, the measurement of traffic flows was carried out at odd times and in such a way that it seemed calculated to underestimate traffic volumes using the surrounding roads.

Subsequently, the council has leaned over backwards to accommodate the owner of the Cawdor site, including the scrapping of a Section 106 commitment.

A report in the Tivyside Advertiser this week notes that a legal challenge against the Castle Cars site has now been mounted by an unnamed third party - almost certainly the owner of the Cawdor site. A spokesperson for Aldi is quoted as saying that "regrettably", the council has decided not to contest the challenge which essentially questions the integrity of the council's own decision making process.

So we have the very odd sight of a council prepared to take the Welsh Government to court, but unwilling to go to court to defend its own decisions. Perhaps things would be different if Aldi came up with a sponsorship deal for the Scarlets.

Emotional intelligence

And finally, it's back to Maesybont where the indefatigable Mrs Trisha Breckman has been in correspondence with the chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council over implementing one of the recommendations of the Public Services Ombudsman to pay £1,000 in compensation for the council's failure to enforce the removal of "privacy boards" erected just feet away from her cottage windows.

Like so many planning nightmares in Carmarthenshire, this story goes back a very long way, and Mrs Breckman's neighbour deposited the trailer body next to her cottage in February 2005 in what can only be interpreted as a deliberately provocative act - there were many other places along the boundary between the two properties where it could have gone without blighting the cottage.

Incredibly, the council decided that the trailer and its siting were in order because Mr Thomas needed it for "agricultural storage", even though a very large shed had just been built on Mr Thomas's land a stone's throw away for the purposes of agricultural storage.

Both that shed and a subsequent large agricultural shed next to it were vetoed by the council's planning committee on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence of agricultural activity at Blaenpant Farm. The first rejection was subsequently overturned on appeal, while the head of planning used delegated powers to overturn the second rejection.

In September 2005 Mr Thomas took further steps to block daylight from Mrs Breckman's windows by erecting what the council termed "privacy boards" between the lorry trailer and the cottage.

Mrs Breckman naturally complained, but the council sat on its hands, saying that enforcement was not in the public interest. After four years the boards became "immune" to enforcement.

The Ombudsman subsequently asked the council to use its influence to persuade Mr Thomas to remove the boards, or failing that the council was to pay Mrs Breckman £1,000 in compensation.



This section replaces the previous version which incorrectly stated that only the privacy boards were removed.

The boards and the trailer were eventually removed, and for a brief period of four months after the council had accepted the Ombudsman's findings, Mrs Breckman could see out of her windows.

This brief respite came to an end when Mr Thomas put in a much larger lorry body next to the cottage, blocking out both light and views across the paddock.

The result is a situation even worse than what went before.

Mrs Breckman points out that her neighbour did not need to remove the privacy boards because they were immune to enforcement, and she suspects, quite plausibly, that there was an arrangement between council officers and Mr Thomas which allowed the council to be seen to be complying with the Ombudsman's recommendations so that the £1,000 payment could be avoided.


As far as Mr James is concerned, the removal of the boards meant that the council did not owe Mrs Breckman a penny, and that was that.

Undeterred, Mrs Breckman wrote back pointing out the extraordinary reluctance by the council to act and protect local residents from a series of flagrant abuses of the planning system.

Mr James duly replied as follows:

Having re-read your e mail, I am not aware that it invites any response.  You have not asked anything further. You have simply stated that you disagree with my previous response.

I have nothing to add to that response. The Council complied with the actions agreed with the Ombudsman. There is therefore no basis on which to pay out monies to you.

I fully appreciate that you disagree and that the neighbour dispute between you and your neighbour Mr Thomas continues.

How much thought went into this can probably be gauged from the poor English, and both this and the previous curt rejection demonstrate an extraordinary lack of what might be termed emotional intelligence, broadly the sort of skills you would normally expect someone in a leadership role to exhibit, such as an ability to empathize and an understanding of the effect you have on those around you.

But the most striking aspect of this rather bad tempered reply is Mr James's insistence on describing the situation in Maesybont as a dispute between neighbours. This was the line he took when trying to dissuade the Assembly's Petitions Committee from getting involved, and he is sticking to it.

It will be interesting to see how this attempt at trivialising and personalising the problems goes down when he explains the council's inaction over the destruction of part of the Cernydd Carmel SAC to Natural Resources Wales and other interested parties. 


Anonymous said...

It is no surprise to read that Mark James continues to act true to form.What a nasty piece of work he is.How on earth did he get an equally nasty individual namely Andrew Thomas to remove the board so saving the council £1,000.Very strange this.Question is why could he not use the same persuasive powers to remove the lorry,or was that the deal?Remove the board.put something back later!!! Looks like it.A man like the neighbour would never move anything out of the goodness of his heart.He and Mark James are two well-met.

Anonymous said...

Huge parked vehicles are OK for agricultural activities? I have not quite grasped what agricultural activities his new road was built for. Is that for a separate activity such as haulage or a scrap business or some other business activities? Doesn't he have lots of horses too?
What a versatile entrepreneur Mrs.Breckman has for a neighbour.
One lucky lady.
Shame that her amount of C.C.C. support does not appear to equal that of her neighbour.

Anonymous said...

I pass this supposed "Farm" and I must say I have noticed about thirty horses in the field.At the moment there are a number of them with foals.Everyone knows horses are difficult to sell so are they bred for another purpose namely horsemeat.

Anonymous said...

The published agenda for the Grillo planning meeting includes the words “AND TO DETERMINE THE APPLICATION”. To me, this implies the committee will make a decision to either grant or refuse planning permission.
If the section 77 call in request has not yet been decided, the Council is specifically prevented from granting permission – however they are not prevented from refusing permission.

Anonymous said...

How can one find out about trading in horse meat and is this the agriculture Eifion Bowen and Mark James keep insisting is taking place?

Anonymous said...

As there are a number of donkeys that are also bred by A. Thomas, would these also be for the meat trade?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 3:22 I have not heared of donkeys being used for meat.Is that possible.
Is there a good trade in selling donkeys as pets? Large sheds of the kind seen in Maesybont are only given permission if the farming taking place is the primary business.
The television programme I saw included a planning inspector saying there were rows of lorries in one of the sheds.Never heared of lorries being agricultural!!

Cneifiwr said...

I think we need to be careful with speculating about what the horses and donkeys are for. It is, of course, perfectly legal to breed and sell horses for transport to parts of western Europe where horse meat is sold for human consumption. It is, surprisingly perhaps, quite popular in Switzerland.

Quite a few farmers in this part of Wales keep a donkey or two. As one local farmer remarked on Cefn Gwlad, nobody ever lost money with a donkey.

Whatever the truth, keeping horses, a donkey or two and a couple of pigs does not amount to agriculture. In planning terms it should be an equestrian holding.

The primary business carried on by Mr Thomas is however wholesale scrap and road haulage.

Anonymous said...

Re. Anonymous 20.10 I lean upon the words, "Determine The Application"and "Committee." Good sentiments but not all cases fit into that category.
I recall a very old song entitled something like" All nice if you can get it"
Am still trying to find out WHO decides Which applications even reach a doorway to any committee? Some, are 'Decided' in private by the Head of planning and his officers. Is that done by picking names out of hats? Could it be that a case might not be entitled to planning permission, and if the applicant is to be favoured then it might be safer for a private decision? Tra-LA Done and dusted in one fell swoop without the noise of even a solo voice to explain why that application is a load of bunkum.
For want of a more explicit description. Please don't tell me that one is able to then complain. Can you all finish the sentence "Done that, got the-------"
There must be enough people with the T-Shirts already in Carmarthenshire to completely stock a large sports store.