Monday, 30 May 2016

Under new management - business as usual

The other day Cneifiwr was talking to a retired county archaeologist from England who had a lot of tales to tell about the vandalism and wanton destruction of scheduled ancient monuments. One such incident involved the remains of a Roman temple which had stood on a bluff overlooking a valley. The archaeologists knew about the temple, but had reason to believe that there was more waiting to be discovered.

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.


Anonymous said...

This Blog just goes to show the inconsistencies in the planning process adopted by Carmarthen County Council Planning.In our case the previous owner of the field complained to the local member and the Community Council about what we were doing .He by his own admission had been refused planning for a house on that land and considered that "everyone had and was getting away with it.Although there were criteria laid down by the Welsh Government with regard to the issue of Enforcement Orders this was ignored." Each case on it's merit" is the oft used phrase.In fact it should be "depending who you are".We had a Holding Number and a Herd Number and 18 months of Movement licences for pigs. To this day the enforcement officer states that the LPA have never been aware of any animals other than horses on the site. In November 2012 he came to the field for the first time when I was there and asked if he could take some photos. I asked if he wanted to take any of the pigs."no they sound quite lively" We met with the then Head of Planning in July 2013 who told us that "we can not keep prosecuting you so we need some proposals" 2 days later I personally handed our proposals yet to this day apart from confirmation of receipt we have not had a response. We put in for planning which was refused and subsequently appealed and this was refused. "Insufficient evidence of agricultural use". Our planning consultant had stated that due to the on going Enforcement we had cut down our stocking until such time as the situation had been resolved . One must assume that Mr. Thomas has supplied evidence of Agricultural activity and that the Council are quite happy to have a long track across a SSSi/ SAC site of building crush( a potential contaminate)but required removal of washed river stone on our field which is not in evidence in the photo of our field shelter.

Anonymous said...

This individual appears to be immune from all planning regulations. Someone needs to be asking questions in the Welsh Assembly. There certainly appears to be complicity here.
Is it true to say that with planning applications under 'agriculture' an applicant wanting to apply for roads, sheds, hardstands, slurry lagoons and so forth should be already be in the business of agriculture and receiving an income from such. This smacks of corruption and complicity as this is clearly not the case and is a carbon copy of what took place at Blaenpant. Anyone can buy a holding and lie about starting an agricultural business. As I've heard, when this haulier applied for sheds, hardstands, huge developments at Blaenpant Maesybont, all under agriculture, this is what he said then. He said he was intending to get into cattle farming and there was even talk of the Blaenpant herd!!! On the back of that he was given everything he wanted. Of course it didn't materialise. There has been zero agriculture at Blaenpant and look at the huge developments there. Are these planners just plain stupid or can anyone buy a farm and develop it by simply saying they intend going into farming - in maybe ten years time????? Planning is notorious for being wide open to corruption! Certainly questions should be raised here.

Anonymous said...

It is incredulous that this individual was allowed to run a haulage business, create a haulage yard on what was a SSSI/SAC site, and build industrial type sheds at Blaenpant Maesybont for the lorries. All given because this same individual according to Mr. Bowen was not running haulage but was a farmer. It also beggars belief that this haulage business's existence was denied for years by Eifion Bowen (HEAD OF PLANNING NOW RETIRED) when told about it's existence by several local residents. This same Head of Planning could not differentiate between a piece of agricultural equipment and an old scrapped fire engine when carrying out a site visit to Mr. Thomas's unauthorised scrap yard he'd created on agricultural land where this old fire engine sat amongst several other items of scrap. He actually believed that this old fire engine was agricultural as he explained how Mr. Thomas could fill it up with water and use it to hose down his yard????? This deemed it to be agricultural. He hadn't worked out that to fill the fire engine would involve a tap and a hose, which any normal person would have used without involving an old scrapped fire engine. Either Mr. Bowen is totally deranged or he likes Mr. Thomas very much and was prepared to travel down a certain road to protect him from enforcement action.
Then there's the issue of allowing the destruction of another area, also SSSI/SAC to enable yet another road to be built all without planning permissions. With still no sign of agriculture 12 years on it beggars belief how this person continues to be given permissions for roads etc. under agricultural jusfications. Genuine farmers must be rubbing their heads when being refused their applications for genuine farming purposes. Planning abuses should not happen and when it is clear something smells it must be investigated not ignored.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @08.58 - you have to wonder whether the planning officers have the slightest clue about agriculture.

Regarding your point in the final paragraph - if you are referring to Ffynnon Luan, it seems pretty clear that this holding is not part of an SSSI or SAC.

Anonymous said...

Quite alarming that Cll. Gwynn Evans actually supported A. Thomas's road application. As a local councillor, someone who represents this area, he knew that A. Thomas has destroyed two Special Areas of Conservation, has torn down trees, ripped out hedgerows, has built several roads without first applying for permissions, attempted to create a scrap yard, and is clearly someone who believes that planning regulations do not apply to him. He builds yet another very substantial tarmac road across agricultural land - what for - certainly not for agriculture as there is none - as yet - at Ffynnon Luan - without applying for planning, and yet this councillor not only condones it but supports the retrospective application. Well well? With several politicians fully aware of the many planning abuses that have taken place at Blaenpant and now Ffynnon Luan, it is even more troubling that this continues to be ignored.

Anonymous said...

@cneifiwr There are two areas of Blaenpant which have been destroyed. Both have the Special Area of Conservation status and both are protected under EU law. Both have been destroyed. E. Bowen did not consult with NRW on either areas when A.Thomas carried out unauthorised activities.

Anonymous said...

Cneifiwr re anon@858- Ffynon Luan is not SSI/SAC but the whole of Blaenpant is--the area of the quarry house and sheds and the fields near the mast site where another road has been built right across the land.No justification for this in application.Just like Ffynon Luan retrospective again.
It just stinks.What kind of relationship does Andrew Thomas have with the Council that he ,unlike Andrew Redman and Nigel Humphries is allowed total destruction everywhere he goes and then given permission for having done it???

Anonymous said...

Planning Permissions Carmarthen style
Someone buys a rundown farm, has huge sheds built, hardstands and roads approved all based on the intention of introducing genuine farming practices e.g livestock and hay cutting for sale.
This someone then never introduces livestock and cuts hay only for his commercial equine business which actually required change of use. They base a haulage business on the "Farm", quarries and exports rock for years with the council ( so they say) being unaware of the destination. Horses are kept for 6 months of the year for 7 years in the shed that was supposedly to house agricultural implement sand without Council officers having ever seen them.
No livestock or anything thing that resembles agricultural practices in sight.
Neither did they see the “Lorry after lorry” seen parked in the shed by a Planning Inquiry Inspector.
This someone, to enable the construction of the sheds and hardstands has totally destroyed a SSSI/SAC HIGHLY PROTECTED SITE. See google earth SA14 7SW quarry area.
This someone then moves on to another part of his “Farm” also SSSI/SAC and proceeds to completely destroy the whole area. Rock and earth excavated all with the help of CCC .It cannot be restored but never mind the someone must do this to have their Road. There is a retrospective application pending but as yet no justification for it.There was no justification for the first sheds anyway.
This someone then moves on again to buy another really rundown old farmhouse with land. Massive quantities of soil removed mature hedgerows removed which are an essential habitat for wildlife .It is not a protected site so that is alright then!
This someone then constructs a substantial tarmac road and submits a retrospective planning application which has just been approved. The roads are allegedly for heavy agricultural vehicles. There is talk of future sheds and a slurry lagoon. This is on 35 acres.
This is a carbon-copy of the first “Farm”
”This someone is special. They would have to be.
Who is this someone and what power do they wield that CCC can give such favour?
Who would be able to destroy and have permission for agricultural constructions like these without any evidence of an agricultural business.being in place?
There must be a very good reason for CCC officers to fear the Someone wielding the power that they should so openly risk their reputations.
It is now the time to really get to grips with investigating the relationship between the someone and CCC planning. With a new head of planning obviously happy to allow a re-run of the way the previous “Farm” was allowed to develop on such a scale, I and others feel it is essential the relationship should be fully investigated. It is very worrying that, even when the former head of Planning Eifion Bowen has retired, with a new head, history is repeating itself.
Farmers who genuinely want to expand their farming businesses and who are obstructed while doing so are more than justified in wanting answers as to why this someone has officers of CCC going to such lengths for them. Head of planning where are you??
Andrew Thomas is special.

Anonymous said...

re:anon 11-03.I have followed this case with much interest and would like to bring attention to several points that I have been made aware of.Mr and Mrs Redman went to the Welsh Government to seek advice from the then Leader of the opposition.He wrote to the Council on their behalf and received a response questioning why the Welsh Government should not have better things to do. One of the quotes being "besides which they are not even resident in the area".It also mentioned receiving a complaint from the Local Member( Rees Davies )and a letter of complaint from Llangathan Community Council in September 2010. Mr.Redman requested the minutes of the meeting when this was discussed. After a considerable period of time the minutes of that September meeting were produced and they contained No Mention of Mr.and Mrs Redman but a hand written note saying that it was November 2010 when the Council was made aware of the situation and minuted. I am not a Public Servant qualified to judge these matters but the discrepancy in timescales is there for all to see.I was contacted by Mr.Redman re: his appeal and was surprised that the Council wanted the appeal to be started in 7 Days.(a considerably shorter period than the 6 months given to.most appeals.) I understand that they wanted the.matter to be dealt with as quick as possible due to the length of time that the case had been ongoing.(At the Council webcast last week it was stated that a number of enforcement cases were being struck off for a variety of reasons) The Assembly are well aware of the many problems at Carmarthen but seem unable to have the collective will to act and bring to account those who have abused their positions as public SERVANTS.

Anonymous said...

Where is the new Head of Planning in all this? She has made a good and impressive start to her new post.Eifion Bowen recently retired must be really proud of her committment to follow his well-tried and tested method of getting Andrew Thomas everything he desires. Well done Llinos Quelch.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember at a previous appeal by Andrew Thomas a great deal came to light of what had been ignored by Eifion Bowen the then head of planning.It was aired on a Television programme with damning evidence from an Ombudsman and a Planning inspector.
It has just occurred to me that the reason for CCC giving permission for the road at Ffynon Luan could possibly be because if it had been refused an appeal would ensue and just like the previous one much would be revealed.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a core of members on the planning committee, led by cllr Daff Davies, who will stick there hand up to grant any application that has even the slightest whiff of agriculture about it. In this case they were amply aided by the planning officer.

The officer repeatedly stated during his glowing report and presentation that the key issue was one of highway safety. He must have been very impressed with the applicant’s Access Justification Statement as he used the images from it in his presentation to committee. Any evidence submitted by an applicant is unlikely to be unbiased - all those awfully narrow back lanes and the dangerously sub standard junction at Penrhiwgoch - maybe CCC should now consider barring its use by all heavy vehicles.

The applicant’s images presented to committee of the visibility splays at the Penrhiwgoch junction with the B4297 are taken from a set-back distance of 2.4 metres but the pictures from the new road junction are clearly taken from about half this distance, giving a far better impression of visibility at the latter.
Also, although the alternative junction with B4297 at Maesybont which could be used is mentioned in passing there is, conveniently for the applicant, no assessment or images of it. The Maesybont junction is located in a 30mph zone and has fantastically wide splays – ideal for the use of tractors and heavy goods vehicles.
However, despite cllr Lenny’s best efforts, the committee did not get the chance to see any of this for themselves.

Anonymous said...

The request for a site visit was conveniently refused and it was clear that Alun Lenny was in favour of it.ANON@ 9.30 gives very clear evidence of how the pictures were engineered to mislead the committee into believing the access was more dangerous in its previous location.Is is not maladministration or more serious for officers to mislead democratically elected members? From the complacency of members at the meeting it is not surprising that officers believe councillors will swallow anything thrown at them.It is either that or they have been "Persuaded."
This is so clear I can smell it from here.

Anonymous said...

It absolutely needed a site visit if only to see for themselves how dangerous and damaging the use of the B4297 is for heavy good vehicles. Most of the small houses are situated virtually on the road edge as is the small school which these heavy vehicles would be thundering past. It is also possible that the original smaller road would be a safer option as there is so very little traffic that uses it at all.

Anonymous said...

Approval by officers of CCC for the Blaenpant developments and now Ffynnon Luan is obviously now routine.It is not just that they are happy to approvefor this special person but they are actually overtly abusing their own policies.No business plan submitted showing the likely success of the venture and Planning Committee being shown the applicant's photographic evidence with none of their own.The members did in fact just lose the vote by one for a site visit which would have produced a probably different decision.The fact is that no one had the capability to challenge the whole application the approval of which leaves everyone astounded.Llinos Quelch where on earth is your integrity?If approach with honesty this would not have been approved.

Lesley said...

Now that Plaid have, theoretically, a certain amount of power and a say in how the council is run, what are they doing about this travesty of planning justice? Anything? Or are they rolling over on this matter just like they seem to be doing on everything else that might be the slightest bit controversial?