west*wales*news*review

West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

New co-op seeks public support to buy organic veg business

Golden Organics, a community co-operative society, is negotiating the possible purchase of Organics to Go, Roger Hallam’s organic vegetables business at Werndolau, Golden Grove, Llandeilo — as reported in the Carmarthenshire Herald, September 23, p.17.

Mr Hallam founded Organics to Go on 10 south-facing acres of loamy soil in 1999, and says it is the only Carmarthenshire organic vegetable farm of which he is aware. The business currently supplies the Organic Fresh Food Company in Lampeter and vegetable boxes to customers locally, in London, and at Mumbles farmers’ market. Most of the vegetable are grown in six polytunnels.

Golden Organics held a public meeting in Golden Grove village hall on September 15 to start finding out how much community support there would be for investing in and buying vegetables from a co-operative society.  More than a dozen people turned up, and several wanted to learn more about the risks and opportunities before making any commitment.

The latest published accounts for the business, Organics to Go (West) Ltd, are for the year to March 31 2015 and show shareholders’ funds of £31,364 compared with £33,422 the previous year. Mr Hallam, who has stepped back from farming to study in London, is the sole shareholder.

The strategy document prepared for Golden Organics’ three directors – Anson Allen, Nick Cater and Peter Clarke – reveals that they are aiming to raise an initial £28,000 of the estimated £68,000 take-over costs for the business, which is offered on a 10-year lease with annual rent, and excludes the farmhouse. The money could come from investors including crowd funding, donations, and grants.

Vegetable production comes with no guarantees, and organic production has higher labour demand and thus wage costs than chemical-intensive production.  There was a feeling in the hall, expressed by Kelly O’Brien, one of the instigators of the ‘Incredible Edible Carmarthenshire’ project to grow food on community-owned and public land, that public benefit could be a large part of the proposed venture. Partnerships with schools, colleges, green groups and others could be cultivated. Kelly also feels that Golden Organics might fit into the Soil Association’s ‘Food for Life’ campaign for better food, including locally sourced organic produce, to be offered in schools.

Golden Organics will now be preparing a full business plan. For more information, contact Anson Allen, anson@ansonallen.co.uk.

Public meeting to discuss a co-operative take-over of Organics to Go, Golden Grove. Co-op directors Anson Allen, Peter Clarke and Nick Cater are standing left, 4th from left and 2nd from right. Roger Hallam, owner of Organics to Go, is standing 2nd from left. Community food campaigner Kelly O’Brien is sitting 2nd from right.

Public meeting to discuss a co-operative take-over of Organics to Go, Golden Grove. Co-op directors Anson Allen, Peter Clarke and Nick Cater are standing left, 4th from left and 2nd from right. Roger Hallam, owner of Organics to Go, is standing 2nd from left. Community food campaigner Kelly O’Brien is sitting 2nd from right.

Rescue plan in reserve for threatened Llangadog recycling centre

Friday September 30 is decision day for Llangadog’s Household Waste Recycling Centre. If there’s no deal, no rescue plan on the table by then, it will close. Read about it in the Carmarthenshire Herald, September 23, pages 1 and 3

Rumours of the possible end-of-September closure of Llangadog’s household waste recycling centre have alarmed residents in north Carmarthenshire, for whom the centre is an important amenity.

The recycling centre serves some 20,000 people, who would face long journeys to alternative sites. The nearest recycling site to Llangadog is more than a dozen miles to the south-west at Wernddu near Ammanford.

The Llangadog centre is operated by All Waste Services Ltd, a private company headed by Mr Hefin Roberts.

Carmarthenshire County Council has a household waste recycling agreement  with All Waste Services. Back in 2014, when the contract was up for renewal, the then Director of Technical Services, Richard Workman, said a new contract at the prevailing rate of payment would be unaffordable. This was despite the fact that Llangadog’s recycling rate of 80%-85% was way above the county average of around 55%, and significantly above the EU target of 50% by 2020, and even above Wales’s target of 70% by 2025. The recycling centre also provided about 10 local jobs.

Public pressure, and intervention from Llangadog’s county councillor Andrew James, saved the day. A new deal was agreed, albeit on tougher terms. The centre no longer accepted certain types of waste, like paint and mattresses, and cut weekend opening to three hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings. But that has not been enough to ensure the centre’s future.

 

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Hefin Roberts (front) and Andrew James: uphill struggle

Emergency talks

Hefin Roberts spoke to The Herald yesterday (Sep 22). He said that negotiations with the county council were going well and he was hopeful an agreement could be reached. “I told the council that we had to have a new agreement in place by September 30,” he said, “or we would not be able to continue”. During the past two years, he has been personally subsidising the recycling centre, he said.

“We have to make sure it is a sustainable business,” he said. “Over the last couple of years it has been increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Back in 2013-14 our budget was cut in half. We streamlined, we had to reduce our staff. At the same time, prices for recycled commodities fell away, mainly because China stopped buying them. It now costs us to dispose of many commodities. For flat glass, for example, we have to pay a ‘gate fee’ to deliver to buyers, and if there is any contamination, we can be charged £100 a tonne on top.

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Demonstration at the Llangadog recycling centre in February 2014, when Carmarthenshire County Council was discussing closure. The centre stayed open, but with only half the previous budget.

“Waste wood can cost £65 a tonne to get rid of – at the moment nobody really wants it. As for scrap metal, we used to receive £120 to £130 a tonne, but that has gone down to £5 a tonne, and we have to pay a haulage charge, which means we earn nothing.

Mr Roberts pointed out that stockpiling commodities in the hope that prices might improve was not an option because of fire risk as well as lack of space.

At Carmarthenshire County Council, spokesperson Debbie Williams said the council is aware of the fears that the recycling centre might close.

“The Authority are in discussion with All Waste Services and will provide further information in due course”, she said.

 

Llanwrda activist launches rescue plan

Maria Carroll, of the Old Post Office shop in Llanwrda, and the Labour candidate in yesterday’s (September 22) Cilycwm by-election, told The Herald she has brought together a team, including local business people, to look at a rescue plan “if we cannot get the council to act”.

The recycling centre “has been running without a contract since 2014, under interim arrangements that were not brought before the full council,” said Maria. Without the security of a properly negotiated contract, the family operating the centre has borne the costs of maintaining the service, she explained.

A petition to keep the centre open can be signed in local shops, including the Old Post Office shop. The petition is also online at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/en-gb/572/697/743/demand-our-community-recycling-centre-serving-is-saved/

 

Waste recycling industry in recession

Since the deal to keep the Llangadog centre open in 2014, the waste business has suffered a recession. As Hefin Roberts explained, this means that operators like AWS receive less income from selling the commodities they recycle, indeed often make a loss. According to the Financial Times on August 23, “the fall in prices for recycled goods has put pressure on every part of the waste management industry”. The report, by Gill Plimmer, also said that the Kier Group, a construction and environmental services company in the FTSE 250 index, had announced that it would exit recycling after announcing in July that it expected to make a £33 million loss on the business in its final year of trading.

All Waste Services does not have to publish full accounts because it is a small company, but balance sheets at Companies House show a decline in the value of the business since 2011. Shareholders’ funds were then £822,267, but they fell in every following year, and the latest balance sheet, for the year to September 30 2015, states shareholders’ funds as £590,647, a fall of 28% in four years, and indicative of tough times in the industry.

PDR

Gelli Aur signs off

Signs pointing to the closed Gelli Aur Country Park, Golden Grove, have been removed or painted over despite the award in 2015 of a grant of £989,000 from the Welsh Government, payable over three years, to improve public access.  (Carmarthenshire Herald, September 16, p.2)

The signs have been taken away or blotted out by Carmarthenshire County Council in response to complaints from members of the public who followed the signs only to find the park closed.

Cllr Hazel Evans, the county council’s executive board member for the environment, said: “The brown tourism signs for Gelli Aur have been removed as they are out of date and we have had complaints from visitors who followed the signs to a facility that was not open.”

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 August 28 2016 — on the A476 between Llandeilo and Cross Hands, one of the few remaining signs to Gelli Aur Country Park

The grant from the Welsh Government was agreed in 2015, to be paid to the Golden Grove Trust over three years. A year ago, on September 28 2015, the Welsh Government said “The first phase of the work is to enable public access to the historic parkland and gardens with associated amenities such as tea rooms, play area, educational activities and trails”.

September 12th 2016 -- same spot, but the sign has been painted over

September 12 2016 — same spot, but the sign has been painted over

The Trust said that the park would be open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays while the restoration work was in progress, but several people have complained about finding the park shut when they have tried to make weekend visits.

The country park, which was valued and used by thousands of people over the years, is being erased.

PDR

Voters in ‘forgotten Carmarthenshire’ quiz Cilycwm candidates

Hustings for a council by-election? Would people care enough to come along? In Carmarthenshire’s Cilycwm ward electors do care, and on Wednesday evening (Sep 14) more than 60 sat attentively in Llanwrda village hall to hear and question the candidates in next Thursday’s (Sep 22) election for a seat on the county council. (See the Carmarthenshire Herald, September 16, p.6)

Five of the seven candidates seeking to replace the late Tom Theophilus made it to the platform: Maria Carroll (Labour), Steven Holmes (Conservative), Catherine Nakielny (Liberal Democrat), Matthew Paul (Independent, although he stood as a Conservative in the 2015 general election and this year’s Welsh Assembly election) and Jacqui Thompson (People First). The two who did not attend were farmers Arwel Davies (Independent), due to an emergency, and Dafydd Tomos (Plaid Cymru), because of an important prior commitment. Both sent their apologies, relayed by the chairman, Rev. Roger Thomas, vicar of Llansadwrn and Llanwrda in Cilycwm ward, and of Manordeilo in an adjacent ward.

Speeding traffic, protection for the recycling centre at Llangadog, encouragement for local businesses, and settling more Syrian refugees were topics of concern for voters, alongside a widespread feeling of living in “forgotten Carmarthenshire”, as Llanwrda garage owner and railway historian Richard Rees put it. Somewhat surprisingly in an area with many Welsh speakers, the proceedings were all in English.

The candidates agreed on many topics. Cilycwm ward needs better broadband and mobile phone coverage, safer roads, and more career opportunities for young people. The Llangadog recycling centre is an important local asset. Carmarthenshire could do more for refugees. Points of disagreement were few and subtle, such as the priority to be given to cutting council tax. Given the already huge pressures on the county council’s budget, and deep cuts in education and social care, scope to reduce council tax is clearly limited. Steven Holmes would aim for a freeze. Matthew Paul, Jacqui Thompson and Catherine Nakielny would campaign against expenditure on wasteful “vanity projects” such as Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli. Maria Carroll, who pointed out that she has experience of managing large budgets in the NHS, would invest for economic growth to increase prosperity in the county.

One voter asked what the candidates would do to prevent a reduction in the number of Welsh MPs at Westminster, a question prompted by the Boundary Commission’s proposal to cut the number of Welsh constituencies from 40 to 29. Maria Carroll, who argued that the plan is based on incorrect figures of elector numbers, urged everyone to read and respond to the consultative document. For Matthew Paul, fewer MPs would not be a problem if devolution was in better health and the UK was progressing towards a federalised structure but in his view “devolution is in a mess”. Both Steven Holmes and Catherine Nakielny stressed that a county councillor’s primary task is to listen to and represent local people.

Electors have a difficult choice between the seven candidates. Every one of the five present at the hustings has particular strengths. Maria Carroll said she is local, keen to promote neighbourliness, and has managed large budgets. Catherine Nakielny, a recent past chair of the Farmers’ Union of Wales Carmarthenshire branch, is knowledgeable about agricultural politics and farming – the backbone industry in this rural area. Steven Holmes is a new voice with “no baggage”, as he expressed it, but with the full support of the Welsh Conservatives. Matthew Paul, an experienced barrister in public, regulatory and administrative law, is “like a dog with a bone” when tackling problems, and he knows how local government works. As for community councillor Jacqui Thompson, she is a survivor of bruising encounters with County Hall and has been instrumental in opening up the workings of the county council to greater public scrutiny and accountability.

PDR

Farmers claim Tywi cycle path puts livestock at risk

Are modern demands for biosecurity ousting the public from the countryside? Arguments over the proposed Carmarthen to Llandeilo cycle path and walkway highlight the issue. See also the Carmarthenshire Herald, September 16, p.5 

Farmers in the Tywi valley are opposing Carmarthenshire County Council’s intention to reopen parts of the trackway of the former Llandeilo to Carmarthen railway, as a path for walkers and cyclists.

The county council’s ‘Towy Valley Cycleway’ is a venture to encourage leisure cycling, as well as walking, in a safe environment. Farmers, though, have numerous worries about the scheme.

The council’s Environment Department, headed by Ruth Mullen, has applied for permission from the Planning Department to create a path between Nantgaredig and Whitemill, using part of the former railway trackbed and an existing footpath which hugs the banks of the river Tywi/Towy.

For William Richard Lloyd Davies, of Cwm Farm, Abergorlech Road, Carmarthen, flooding is a large risk and he would rather the path ran alongside the A40, or formed part of Celtic Trail route 47, which extends across south Wales and takes in Llanelli and Kidwelly on the way to Carmarthen, completely avoiding the Tywi valley between Carmarthen and Llandeilo.

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This map, courtesy of Carmarthenshire County Council and based on a Crown Copyright map, shows the route of the  proposed cycle path between Whitemill in the west and Nantgaredig in the east. The section bordering the river is on the line of an existing footpath. 

Mr Lloyd Davies has told the county council’s planning department that any elevation, even a slight one, “in the creation of the path, will act as a barrier for flood water to run back into the Tywi, and create additional and sustained flooding resulting in property damage and financial loss to myself as a land owner and to other landowners in the area.”

He says that the path plan conflicts with the Welsh Government’s strategic framework for the eradication of bovine TB in Wales, which requires the immediate imposition of movement restrictions once disease is suspected, keeping disease out of clean farms and preventing cattle from coming into contact with the pathogen.

Helen Scott of the Carmarthen Veterinary Centre has told the planning department that several clients along the proposed route contacted her with concerns. Miss Scott’s arguments include:

  • There is no provision for biosecurity cleansing and disinfection.
  • Disruption of boundaries could allow nose-to-nose contact between animals.
  • Dogs could transmit Neospora caninum, a cause of bovine abortion, and worry livestock.
  • Bovine TB, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis and Johnes disease could be transmitted.
  • People could be in danger from livestock.
  • Local wildlife could be disrupted.

The National Farmers Union has also put in a letter of objection on behalf of seven members. One is Clive Jones of Beili Glas, Whitemill. He points out that a “substantial part of the path will run alongside the River Tywi. As one of the land tenants occupying a part of the Tywi valley affected by the proposed development, I have over the years experienced the extensive, regular and unpredictable flooding from the River Tywi. I have grave concerns as to the danger the unpredictable water levels poses to the public using the proposed cycleway. I also have fears of the risk that the river holds even when not in flood, as sections of the proposed cycleway are located in a remote area, anyone who may be tempted away from the path to swim or jump into the river from the river bank could consequently find themselves in distress, with no assistance near by. There have been recent incidents on the Tywi river where such activities have been fatal.”

A detailed map of the proposed path shows exits via public and private rights of way in case of emergency. This map also has a cross section showing that the three-metre wide tarmac path, with one-metre verges on both sides, would be enclosed with wire mesh fencing supported by timber posts 1.2 metres high.

As regards safety, the riverside location has much in common with coastal beaches which carry ‘no swimming’ instructions when sea conditions are potentially dangerous, and at times of flood the path could be closed.

Natural Resources Wales has concerns of its own, about protected species, and is asking for further surveys. Dyfed Archaeological Trust wants protection for a Bronze Age round barrow and standing stone, and sections of Roman road. CADW, concerned about the round barrow, said:  “unfortunately the application contains no information as to how the construction work will avoid damage to the scheduled monument”.

Llanegwad Community Council, though, has given its backing to the pathway plan, as has the Carmarthenshire Cycling Forum, which liaises with the county council, The cycling forum  expects the creation of the path to take some time, and possibly require the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Plan for 125 metre wind turbines at Rhydcymerau  

Could this be a trend? Receive planning permission for a project and quickly seek to make it much bigger? 

Carmarthenshire Herald, September 9th 2016, p.2

From supersize to megasize

Six months after winning a battle for planning permission, the firm proposing two wind turbines 100 metres (325 feet) high to the blade tip, sited north of Rhydcymerau on Mynydd Pencarreg, is asking to ditch those for even larger turbines, measuring 125 metres (406 feet) from ground to blade tip.

The structures would be taller than the 111-metre dome of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, and the blade tips would be some 475 metres (1,544 feet) above sea level.

The site is above 350 metres, about half a mile north of Esgairliving and a smaller distance south-west of Pantycrwys.   The Allt y Mynydd care home is about a mile distant.

The turbine owners, EnergieKontor UK Ltd of Leeds, a subsidiary of the German parent company, argue that the taller turbines could yield 37.7% more energy, from 10,417 to 14,347 MW hours per year.  The location map indicates that one of the higher structures would have to be moved from the current approved position because if it toppled, it could fall across a public road.

A deluge of objections, as well as expressions of support, greeted the original planning application. Llanybydder Community Council, which objected strongly, is likely to consider the application for even taller turbines when it meets on September 27.

VAST opposition

The group Villages Against Wind Turbines (VAST) also opposed the original application on grounds including damage to the landscape and ecology, noise, traffic, and distance to the National Grid.

VAST commented that construction of the 100-metre turbines “would require over 2,500 vehicle movements. This includes over 1,300 HGV trips and 50 turbine loads. The applicants anticipate an eight-month construction period ahead of becoming operational in 2017 – and this coincides with the construction timetable for Brechfa West”.

Connection to the National Grid was also an issue for VAST, which said it would require more than six kilometres of overhead or underground lines.  “Members of the public were told at the developer’s exhibition that the connection would be underground. If this was truthful, then there will be a sizeable environmental impact from six kilometres of trenching. This should have been factored in to the developer’s assessment of the site’s suitability and consideration of better alternatives, with a closer grid connection,” VAST argued before the turbines were given planning permission.

In response to the new application to increase the turbines’ height, VAST secretary Caroline Hill said: “VAST is seeking professional advice before responding to a planning application for a variation in height on this scale.  EnergieKontor has not as yet submitted sufficient information for the full impact to be assessed.”

The latest application will be determined by Carmarthenshire County Council.

PDR

Opposition to ‘free range’ chicken units highlights divide between farmers and public

It’s time for the ‘free range eggs’ labelling rules to be changed because — quite legally — ‘free range’ eggs now usually come from vast, intensive, indoor units which have exits so that some birds can get outside, but many never see daylight. Imagine you are at the centre of a dense crowd of 32,500 people: how easy would it be to reach the exit? See the Carmarthenshire Herald, September 9th 2016, p.3

Two 32,000 ‘free range’ chicken units are planned for the Tywi Valley in east Carmarthenshire. Their combined output could reach 20 million eggs a year.

One is for Mr Terry Davies on land north of Glanmyddyfi, Pentrefelin, Llandeilo, and the other is for T V Hughes & Co at Godre Garreg, off Carreg-Sawdde common, Llangadog.

Residents living nearby generally oppose the plans strongly, but other farmers and people and organisations connected with agriculture often give their support.

What is ‘free range’? Probably not what you think

The Llangadog application, for a unit of 32,000 hens, was submitted in September 2015 and validated on April 21 2016, but has not yet been determined by Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning committee. This scheme has attracted both large numbers of objections and letters of support – around 40 separate objections and almost as many expressions of support.

The unit, clad in green box profile, would be 140 metres long, 20 metres wide, 3.1 metres high to the eaves and 5.8 metres to the ridge line. There would be four feed hoppers, each 8.75 metres high.

Much of the objection centres on the industrial nature of the plan. Despite the permitted label ‘free range’, which suggests hens wandering wherever they want, these hens would be housed in layers in a large building where they are in theory free to move around, but as each hen has only a square foot or so of floor space, free movement is difficult. Nevertheless, the ‘free range’ label accords with current regulations.

For 32,000 ‘free range’ hens, outdoor space of 13 hectares (32 acres) is required, but there are no regulations to say how often the birds must be outside. During daylight hours there must be open ‘popholes’ in their building, but the greater the number of hens, the smaller the chance of them finding and using the ‘popholes’.

Inside a ‘free range’ egg-laying unit, the following rules apply, according to the RSPCA:

  • Each bird to have at least 250 sq cm (0.269 of a sq foot) of litter space.
  • No more than nine birds per square metre
  • 10 cm of feeder space for each bird
  • At least one drinker for every 10 birds
  • One nest for every seven birds, or 1 sq metre of nest space for every 120 birds
  • Water and feeding troughs must be raised off the ground

‘Free range’ eggs account for 47% of the 10.02 billion produced in the UK annually, according to the British Egg Information Service. That means between 192 million and 193 million free-range eggs produced every week. This number is too great to come from small flocks scratching about at leisure outdoors in the countryside.

Hens can normally live for 10 to 12 years, but their lifespan in a ‘free range’ unit is much shorter. Generally they are disposed of at 72 weeks, when the number of eggs they lay starts to wane.

Support for farm diversification

At Godre Garreg, the letters of support indicate that the egg unit would be run eventually by Aaron Hughes, an agricultural student at Coleg Sir Gar. Many of the letters on file in the county council’s planning department point out that the unit would enable him to stay on the family farm, which might otherwise not be able to support him. Mary Richards, assistant curriculum head, Department of Landbased Studies, Coleg Sir Gar, wrote that “Aaron epitomises what rural West Wales needs – a bright, enthusiastic, motivated, Welsh to the core young farmer”.

Both the farming unions, the NFU and the FUW, are in favour. David Waters, Carmarthenshire county executive officer for the FUW (Farmers Union of Wales), submitted that “It is imperative that potential employment opportunities are explored in all aspects of the rural economy and this proposed development ticks the boxes in many of these areas.”

The submission from the National Farmers Union’s group secretary in Llandeilo, G J Davies, said: “You will be aware that the farming industry continues to face formidable challenges with market volatility, high input prices and increasing regulation. In response to these challenges farmers have to grow, adapt and diversify their businesses so that they can remain viable. NFU Cymru would, therefore, emphasise the need for the planning system to support such development.”

Many of the scheme supporters are from beyond the Tywi valley, and represent other egg units, suppliers to the poultry industry, the veterinary sector, accountancy, and farmers arguing the necessity of diversification. The objectors are more local and fear environmental and economic damage that, in their view, outweighs the advantages for the Hughes family.

Pollution fears

Opponents of the scheme have worries about pollution, flooding, traffic, smell, waste disposal, and the impacts on landscape and wildlife.

Sir Edward Dashwood, representing the Golden Grove and Abercothi estates in the Tywi valley, is concerned about the risk of waste or other pollutants entering the nearby rivers. The unit would be located near the Tywi and its tributary the Sawdde, “both only a field or two away from the site”. Sir Edward points out that the Tywi valley is vulnerable to high rainfall and to flooding.

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Ty Newydd, Llangadog, a quiet spot for B&B, camping and caravanning — but the 32,500-bird unit, producing around 10 million eggs a year,  would be in the first field up the lane.

Derek and Lesley Stone, of Ty Newydd, Llangadog, had moved to their home, with a boundary only some eight metres from the proposed building, just six weeks before the planning application was submitted. They intended a B&B, camping and caravanning tourism enterprise. “With a development like this we fear that our business will not survive because of the visual impact of the unit, the smells and the noise, extra traffic over the common, not to mention the vermin,” they wrote to the planning department. They also said: “The unit will be right on our boundary and although in the planning application it states no property overlooks the unit, it can be seen from both of the rooms that we intend to use for our guests.”

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Ty Newydd and another property are on the left-hand side of the line of trees. The unit would extend through the low hedge in the foreground. 

Llangadog Community Council feels that the “current proposed location for a poultry unit of this size and scale is inappropriate due to its close proximity to several neighbouring properties” and has worries about noise, smell and visual amenity.

Llandeilo county councillor Edward Thomas is concerned that “32,000 birds would be producing large amounts of livestock manure and there is a danger that if there are not enough safeguards that this manure could enter the Tywi and cause pollution problems along the length of the river”.

Local county councillor Andrew James is requesting that the application be called in for consideration by the whole planning committee.

More manure management questions

On the other side of the Tywi on farmland north of Glanmyddyfi, Pentrefelin, off the A40 just beyond the Cottage Inn, two miles west of Llandeilo, Mr Terry Davies has applied a second time for a 32,000 bird unit, to add to one at Llanfynydd for which he received permission in 2011.

The building would be 73 metres long and 39.5 metres wide, with two feed silos and eight exhaust air stacks. Manure from the birds would be spread every four days. Changes to the junction of the lane from Glanmyddyfi at the main A40 would be necessary, to allow for large vehicles coming and going.

The application, dated June 30 and validated on August 11, has drawn several objections. Mr Rhys Phillips, living at Pentrefelin near the proposed site, argues that “the increased traffic will use the narrow lanes servicing Capel Isaac and will enter and exit at the A40 junction”. He continues: “This will be expected to accommodate the transport of 210,000 eggs a week and allow about 32 tons of feed in.”

Each year some 1,344 tons of excreta would be produced, Mr Phillips calculated. Most would be removed and spread elsewhere, but between 2.5 and 5.5 tonnes a week would remain, creating “enormous pollution potential”, in Mr Phillips’ view, because “it is on a flood plain which slopes towards the Afon Myddyfi about five metres away from the site”. The Myddyfi flows into the Tywi just over a mile distant.

Natural Resources Wales is not happy. “We have significant concerns regarding the proposal as submitted and consider that there is currently insufficient information to assess the potential impacts on protected sites and the management of manure from the proposed unit. We require this additional information before we can provide you with detailed comments on the application,” commented Jonathan Scott, team leader in the Development Planning section, in his submission to the planning authority.

Both the Llangadog and Glanmyddyfi units could each produce between nine and 10 million eggs a year, possibly more. The boost to agricultural productivity is real and valuable to farmers, but also damaging to community relations, to nearby tourism enterprises, and possibly to the environment too.

PDR

Seven candidates contest county council seat in Cilycwm

See also the Carmarthenshire Herald, September 2nd 2016, p.4

Seven candidates are competing hard to replace the late Tom Theophilus as county councillor for Cilycwm, in north-east Carmarthenshire.  The hotly contested by-election is on September 22, and the winner will have just seven months in post before campaigning starts all over again for the full council elections on May 4 2017.

The sprawling Cilycwm ward covers almost 50 square miles but has an electorate of only about 1,160 people, of whom between 40% and 50% are Welsh speakers. At the last election in 2012 the turnout was nudging 60%.

The ward has not a single open school, the last two – Llansadwrn and Llanwrda – closing in 2016, illustrating the withdrawal of public services from rural areas. Public services are apparently not ‘sustainable’, but their removal threatens the whole fabric of rural life. The seven candidates are all up for the challenge.

Plaid quick off the mark – Dafydd Owen Tomos

Plaid Cymru was quickly out of the blocks, selecting farmer Dafydd Owen Tomos of Penyfedw, Cilycwm, one of the directors of Cilycwm Community Association and former clerk to Cilycwm Community Council.

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Dafydd Owen Tomos

“I’m standing to be the next councillor for the communities of Cilycwm, Llansadwrn and Llanwrda as I believe I have the experience, the commitment and the passion to advance the needs of the area, and deliver tangible benefits to the residents of north Carmarthenshire,” he said, adding that in the past residents have “too often been ignored”. His priorities include faster broadband speeds and better mobile network coverage.

Conservatives back listening sportsman – Steven Andrew Holmes

The Welsh Conservatives have Steven Andrew Holmes, a keen runner and secretary of the Sarn Helen Running and Cycling clubs, from Nant y Llyn, Ffarmers. Steven, whose professional background is in hotel management, including at the London Hilton, and also as a health and fitness consultant, grew up in Northern Ireland, which he says has much in common with rural West Wales.

Steven Holmes

Steven Andrew Holmes

Aiming to be an approachable and effective bridge between local people and County Hall, “with a good listening ear”, Steven’s priorities include better access to healthcare and other public services, and infrastructure improvements such as broadband, mobile network coverage and transport, to aid rural businesses to invest for the future.

Social care critical for Labour – Maria Rose Carroll

Labour’s candidate is Maria Rose Carroll, whose daughter runs Llanwrda’s shop in the village centre. Maria, who has lived in Llanwrda for 12 years, trained as a nurse and was a council member of the Royal College of Nursing, and also a manager in the NHS responsible for a £300 million acute care budget. “We must engage the community in decision making,” she said. Maria is anxious to protect public services, and in particular to speed up and enhance the home care provided to elderly people so they do not have to languish unnecessarily in hospital, and to improve rural road safety and school transport.

Maria said she is appalled at the financial cuts to local government, and the lack of high-quality local jobs to keep young people in the area. She favours a National investment Bank to support business and entrepreneurship.

LibDems choose agriculture specialist – Catherine Nakielny

The Liberal Democrats are backing agricultural adviser Dr Catherine Nakielny, who lives at Blaennant, Talley. Catherine’s profile on the AgriPlan Cymru consultancy website says she is a technical specialist in sheep production, providing consultations to individual producers and to Innovis Ltd. She gives presentations, has delivered a winter forage cost calculator, and is engaged in estimating the reduction in methane emissions from genetic improvement of the Welsh national flock. Previously she was breeding programme manager at Innovis Ltd, Aberystwyth.

Whistle-blowing blogger represents People First – Jacqui Thompson

Llanwrda blogger and community councillor Jacqui Thompson, of Cae Brwyn, Hafod Bridge, is standing for People First – Fighting for the Community.  Jacqui Thompson is no fan of the leadership style of county council chief executive Mark James. The two have an acrimonious history, the most recent chapter this year when Mr James asked Dyfed-Powys Police to investigate her for harassment and perverting the course of justice. The investigations have been dropped for lack of evidence. Jacqui Thompson’s blog, often critical of the council, has been both a finalist and a winner in the Wales Blog Awards.

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Jacqui Thompson

“A long-time community campaigner, I am a strong, independent, determined voice, standing up for the best interests of local people. As a county councillor I will be easy to contact and hold surgeries. Most of all, I’ll listen to your concerns, be your champion and not take no for an answer,” is among her messages to voters.

Two independents joined the fray – farmer Thomas Arwel Davies, former chair and current vice-chair of Cilycwm Community Council, of Berrisbrooke Farm, Porthyrhyd, and barrister and Herald columnist Matthew Graham Paul, whose base is Penlan Farm, Siloh, Llandovery. Mr Paul has previously stood for election to Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, representing Welsh Conservatives.

Farming Independent seeks affordable housing for local people – Thomas Arwel Davies

Policy priorities for Thomas Arwel Davies – always called Arwel — include rural housing, road safety, and the planning system.

“I am particularly interested in understanding local housing needs, with the aim of ensuring that local people can afford to continue to live in their own communities,” said Arwel, who has lived in the ward for all of his 48 years.

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Thomas Arwel Davies  

He calls rural roads “extremely hazardous” and would like dangerous bends to be improved. As for the planning system, he argues that there is “growing resentment” over planning applications, because of the “very many instances” in which decisions favoured by community councils are overruled “despite the wishes of the local council-tax payers”.

Independent will campaign for local state education – Matthew Graham Paul

Barrister Matthew Graham Paul deplores the closure of local schools, and in 2012 represented the Ysgol Pantycelyn Action Group free of charge in the High Court and the Court of Appeal to try to keep Llandovery’s Pantycelyn comprehensive school open. “Cilycwm residents have unreasonably long journeys to school. I will campaign for secondary education to return to Llandovery, so that we can once again have a local state secondary school,” he says, adding that it is in Cilycwm’s interests for Llandovery as a town to succeed, and to help achieve this, the county council should allow two hours free parking in the car park.

He would work to achieve a county council which responds to local needs. “Carmarthenshire County Council too often overlooks or ignores the north-east of the county,” he says. “Whichever party is nominally in charge of the council, its elected members have completely failed to change the council’s culture.” Matthew feels that his work as a barrister is an asset. “I understand how local government works and how to resolve problems effectively,” he said. “I spend my professional life helping people sort out their difficulties with local authorities, and I have assisted a substantial number of Cilycwm residents for no charge.”

He plans to campaign for micro-generation and the expansion of hydro, solar and small-scale wind power (not large industrial wind turbines). He wants taxpayers’ money spent more effectively, lower council tax, and every effort to avoid wasteful use of resources. Planning decisions should “sustain the viability of farms and rural business, and permit future generations to live and work where they were brought up”. He would work to meet the needs of older Cilycwm residents, in dealing with care home admissions and the services delivered to people in their homes.

“Above all”, he says, “I believe that a councillor should have an open-door policy, and I will respond quickly to constituents’ concerns. I will be an effective, approachable and independent representative for local residents.”

PDR

I do not yet have photographs of Maria Rose Carroll, Catherine Nakielny or Matthew Graham Paul

 

 

 

 

 

Llandeilo volunteers aim to keep sports facilities open on closed Tregib campus

See the Carmarthenshire Herald, August 26 2016, p.8. New comment after the text.

A group of community-minded sports enthusiasts in Llandeilo hope they are just days away from acquiring the sports field, all-weather playing surface, sports hall, gym and changing rooms on the closed Tregib school campus, on a four-year lease from owners Carmarthenshire County Council.

The replacement Bro Dinefwr campus at Love Lodge Farm currently has fewer sports amenities – no hard running track or floodlights at the artificial-surfaced pitch — and the field and sports hall will not at present be available to sports clubs or the public.

When the lease is agreed, a new not-for-profit company, Tregib Sports Facilities Ltd, will take over responsibility for running the sports venues at the old school.

“Discussions are being finalised on a four year lease of the playing facilities, gymnasium and changing rooms to Tregib Sports Facilities Ltd. The council will be undertaking works to isolate the utilities and services from the remainder of the former school site to allow the community to continue to use the facilities via the new arrangements,” said a county council statement.

The changes have been complicated to make, because utilities for the leased lights and buildings, like electricity and water, have to be separated from the services supplied to the empty school.

Nick Weed, a director of the new company alongside Roderick Davies and Llandeilo’s county councillor Edward Thomas, and chair of Clwb Peldroed Teigrod Teilo Football Club, said that the town’s football, hockey, rugby, cricket and gymnastics clubs, among other groups, faced the sudden loss of the pitches and hall they used for training or matches or both.

“Many key people in local sports organisations are working very hard to achieve a seamless transfer of the facilities from the school to the community,” said Mr Weed.

“We hope that the lease will be agreed in time for clubs to start training in September, and we aim to keep hire fees the same” said Mr Weed. “A four-year lease will give us a breathing space. The county council still has to decide what to do with the Tregib site, and so a longer lease is not possible at present.”

The county council says that there are currently no plans to install a hard running track at Bro Dinefwr. There is a 3G synthetic pitch, not floodlit, and a multi-use games area, which is floodlit.

“It is for the school’s governing body to decide what sports facilities will be made available for community use and as far as we are aware nothing has been decided as yet,” said the council’s statement.

The decision to select a 3G pitch, which has a pile to resemble grass, instead of traditional AstroTurf is potentially problematic because 3G is much better suited to rugby and football than to hockey, which requires a smoother surface.

Comment

As Matthew Paul wrote in The Herald last week (August 26, p.16), musing that Sir Steve Redgrave’s old school at Great Marlow has its own boat club, “Ysgol Bro Dinefwr would be well placed to copy this innovation, as it is frequently possible, if you move the sandbags, to row straight out of the classroom”. Just a hint of exaggeration, maybe, but aquatic sports would compensate a little for the way in which pupils have been sold down the river in other sporting respects. The old Tregib School had a swimming pool! All right, it has been removed, but why not include one at the still-shiny new school? Maybe pumping out the water would have been a repetitive and costly task on the low-lying flood plain. 

Now the hockey players. GB won the women’s hockey at the Olympics, and Bro Dinefwr reached the final of the Wales under-16 tournament this year, to lose narrowly in a penalty shoot-out. I understand that the new synthetic 3G pitch at Bro Dinefwr is fine for rugby and football, but useless for hockey because the pile is too long. I looked it up, and there does not appear to be a 3G pitch which serves for all three sports. 

Practice after school? Not in winter, because there are no floodlights at the pitch. 

The athletes are badly served, too. Tregib has a proper running track, but there isn’t one at Bro Dinefwr. I think there is a plan to mark out lanes on grass. Wellington boots are likely to become part of the PE kit. 

OK, Bro Dinefwr is not five-star when it comes to sporting facilities, but surely community clubs will have access to them? No, apparently not. 

So a big round of applause for the volunteers who have formed the not-for-profit Tregib Sports Facilities Ltd. If they had not stepped forward to take over, on a four-year lease, the all-weather pitch, gym, sports hall and field, and the changing rooms, on the now-empty Tregib site, sport in Llandeilo would have taken a giant step backwards.  

Once the lease is signed, there will be four years to sort out what happens next. 

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Volunteers in a not-for-profit company aim to unlock the sports facilities on the Tregib site, Llandeilo, so that clubs can continue to train and compete. 

PDR

 

Scrap dealer who harassed neighbours scoops up their home

See the Carmarthenshire Herald, August 26 2016, pages 10-11

Thirteen traumatic years are drawing to a close for Trisha Breckman (72) and Eddie Roberts (79) of Maesybont, but there is no happy ending. Their neighbour Andrew Thomas of Blaenpant Farm, a scrap metal wholesaler and owner of AJT Recycling Ltd, is buying their Pantycastell Fach smallholding in a sale forced by Trisha and Eddie’s legal team at a mediation which they thought was to be about their civil claim for damages.

At the mediation session to discuss their civil claim against Andrew Thomas, it was made clear to Trisha and Eddie that if they did not agree to sell their home to him, and thereby avoid going to court, their legal insurers would very probably withdraw cover. “I did not want to sign,” said Trisha, “but felt pressurised to do so.”

She hopes for a six-month delay before moving out to allow Eddie, who will be 80 in November, to recuperate from an imminent operation.

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Trisha Breckman felt pressurised to sell to the neighbour who harassed her and Eddie Roberts.

Meanwhile, she is focusing on a claim for compensation against Carmarthenshire County Council, for failures in the planning department which, she says, worsened their plight over the course of 13 years.

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The setting of Pantycastell Fach looks idyllic, but looks are deceptive.

Trisha and Eddie, who bought the pretty 6½ acre holding in 2003, cannot repay their mortgage because all their plans were smashed to smithereens when conflict with their neighbour, whose land encircles Pantycastell Fach, absorbed their energies and money, and prevented them from building the cattery they had intended to run, and for which they had taken out the mortgage.

Tipper lorries

Andrew Thomas’s late wife Karen Bowen, who died in 2008, bought Blaenpant in 2001. She was a director of Karen Bowen Haulage Ltd, operating tipper lorries which Trisha and Eddie noticed travelling to and from Blaenpant, and stored there too. Karen Bowen did not have planning permission to site lorries at Blaenpant, which was and is supposed to be a farm, and therefore exempt from business rates.  “Neither of the commercial firms, Karen Bowen’s haulage business or Andrew Thomas’s recycling operations, paid business rates at Blaenpant for the years 2001 to 2011,” said Trisha. “This was stated in a letter I received from our solicitors.”

Andrew Thomas quarried and destroyed part of the Cernydd Carmel Special Area of Conservation, which is supposed to receive maximum protection, and in 2006 was convicted of assaulting two young women who were trying to stop him from confronting Eddie Roberts in Carmarthen. He and Karen had learnt that Trisha and Eddie were asking the county council questions about the haulage and other industrial operations at Blaenpant.

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This gigantic lorry was permanently parked outside the cottage windows. It has been removed now.

This led to a campaign of harassment, in which Andrew and Karen

  • Installed motorway-style barriers to narrow the access track to Pantycastell Fach, making it inaccessible to large vehicles such as a fire engine, and erected two additional gates across the track, which his wife Karen Bowen owned but over which the occupants of Pantycastell Fach cottage have a right of way. “The gates were locked at times, trapping us,” said Trisha.
  • Drove a loose horse down the track towards Trisha. Karen Bowen called the police, who arrested Trisha and took her away in handcuffs. Trisha was arrested on four other occasions at the behest of Karen Bowen and Andrew Thomas.
  • Sited a large removals lorry on the boundary between Blaenpant and Pantycastell Fach, right outside the cottage windows.
  • Kept pigs called Trisha and Eddie outside a bedroom window and loudly insulted them by name.

The harassment is documented on video and in TV documentaries — six on ITV’s Wales This Week between June 2005 and March 2008, and BBC1 Wales in October 2012. Trisha and Eddie’s county councillor , Plaid Cymru’s Cefin Campbell, and their Assembly Member at the time, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, tried hard to intercede with the planning department, but made slow progress.

Police apologised unreservedly

Dyfed-Powys Police eventually, in 2015, apologised to Trisha for treating her as a wrongdoer when, all the time, she was a victim.  The police apology, signed by Simon Prince, the Chief Constable, and Christopher Salmon, then the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed-Powys, included these words:

“It is quite clear that you have been severely let down by the authorities and for the part played by Dyfed Powys Police in this we apologise whole heartedly.”

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Letter of apology from Dyfed-Powys Police. 

In addition to the apology from Dyfed-Powys Police, Trisha Breckman received a further apology from Christopher Salmon, as follows:

“We are apologising for all the hurt and pain caused throughout your experience, including any implied attack on your integrity.

“I do not want to lose the force of an unbounded apology. However it absolutely applies to any unsubstantiated comment or accusation, implied or otherwise, against your integrity. We acknowledge they are hurtful, embarrassing and deeply personal. For that we are sorry.

“Officers will continue to do all they can to help you with any ongoing issues. You are not accused of anything and your integrity is not in doubt.”

Christopher Salmon was no fan of Carmarthenshire County Council, which treated Trisha and Eddie as vexatious complainants. His parting comments, when he left the police commissioner post he held from November 2012 to May 2016, included:

“Carmarthenshire County Council.  Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel. It’s everywhere you look (thankfully only in Carmarthenshire – so far as I can tell). It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hordes property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors.”

Council knew more than it admitted

Carmarthenshire’s planning department, then headed by now-retired Eifion Bowen, refused to take seriously Trisha and Eddie’s concerns about unlicensed haulage operations, illegal quarrying, and a long series of ‘agricultural’ planning applications for industrial uses. At least, they made no admissions of concern in public. ITV’s Wales This Week, in June 2005, got hold of an internal email from Brian Canning, Planning Enforcement Manager at the time, who wrote: “Someone is going to get injured or worse if this carries on…. I am not sure if at present they are operating from the site wholly to the letter of the law…”

The council were also fully informed of the Thomases’ unlawful industrial activities by a former owner of Pantycastell Fach, who moved out in 2002 after 26 years, and whose complaints about noisy unauthorised operations in 2001 and 2002 were on file in the planning department.

In 2010 a planning inquiry by inspector Clive Cochrane determined that an area of land on Blaenpant Farm, away from the yard and adjacent to the Carmel telecommunications mast, was being used unlawfully to store a long list of non-agricultural equipment – industrial skips, lorries, lorry engines and parts, container body shells, excavator and bulldozer plant, a fire engine, tarmacadam planings and more –and must be returned to agriculture. Later Mr Cochrane, by then retired, told the BBC that he could confirm everything that Trisha and Eddie had said about operations at Blaenpant lacking planning permission

Commenting on the main farmyard of Blaenpant, Mr Cochrane said in his inquiry report:

“During the inquiry, copies of two VOSA (Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, since replaced by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) licences were produced to show that Blaenpant Farm is an operational base for six lorries and five trailers owned by two different haulage companies. I understand that the appellant also operates haulage and scrap metal businesses at other licensed vehicle operating centres in the Swansea area.

“The licensed operations and the use of the yard and buildings as a haulage depot, storage of related items and HGV maintenance area, combined with the keeping of horses, is not an agricultural use of the existing buildings and open yard. This appears to be in contravention of the conditional planning permissions for the buildings and may be unlawful without further planning permission for an apparent change of use.”

Planning Enforcement Manager claimed Ombudsman was biased and insulting

Two years later, in 2012, the then Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Peter Tyndall, wrote a blistering report on the Blaenpant affair, concluding that that the county council was guilty of maladministration. The 188-page report from the Ombudsman contains, as Appendix 3, comments from the former Planning Enforcement Manager for Carmarthenshire County Council. His name is not given but the officer in the role in the early 2000s was Brian Canning.

The former Planning Enforcement Manager did not mince his words. Commenting on the Ombudsman’s draft report, he wrote:

“I consider the contents of your report in relation to my involvement in this very long-running and difficult case to be biased and lacking in any evidential basis. You insult my professionalism [and that of the Head of Planning] in stating that our ‘dislike’ of this woman (Trisha Breckman) would influence the manner with which we dealt with her many and varied complaints over the years.”

He went on to challenge the  validity of the Ombudsman’s findings, and said “It is my fervent hope that Carmarthenshire County Council seeks counsel’s advice in order to vigorously challenge your recommendations in this matter”, concluding “I did not want to get involved in this matter from the outset. I have absolutely no interest in your final conclusions so would be grateful if you would refrain from contacting me again.”

The Planning Enforcement Manager had told the Ombudsman’s enquiry that he could not recall complaints about industrial activity at Blaenpant, made by the previous occupiers of Pantycastell Fach. He could not recall seeing a log of HGV-related activity completed at the end of 2001, he could not recall if he had been aware that former occupiers had said they were threatened by Mr Thomas after complaining about the extent of haulage activities at Blaenpant. He did not recall if Blaenpant was licensed as an operating base for one HGV, but he did recall that the operating centre for the lorries was elsewhere. He never saw anything to suggest that a change of use from farming to industry had occurred. He did not recall being shown photographs of lorries, he could not recall if he was offered video footage of HGV activity during a meeting with Eddie Roberts and his surveyor. He could not recall a planning report of September 2006 which referred to the primary uses of the site as being equine and a lorry base, and he believed that statement to be incorrect, based on a snapshot assessment of the planning officer and going beyond what the officer was in a position to say.

Mr Thomas had said under oath during the 2010 planning inquiry that for ten years he had been using the farm as a base for five or six lorries, plus trailers, but the Planning Enforcement Manager did not think that any weight should be attached to this statement, because in his view, the late Karen Bowen would have had a clearer idea of what had been going on. In fact, Karen had already admitted in court, in 2006, that she ran a haulage business at Blaenpant without planning permission.

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Solicitor’s note reveals that the late Karen Bowen had admitted, in a court case in which she accused Trisha Breckman of assault, that she ran a haulage business at Blaenpant without permission. 

The Planning Enforcement Manager told the Ombudsman that he was extremely principled and would never desist from taking action on the basis of some other ulterior motive, for example, because an officer was being intimidated.

Exonerated – but about to lose their home

The county council placed Trisha and Eddie on a list of persistent complainants and for a time they were prevented from contacting council staff and councillors, with the exception of one designated person, the then-Director of Regeneration and Leisure, Dave Gilbert.

Despite Dyfed-Powys Police, the former Police and Crime Commissioner, a planning inspector and the Public Services Ombudsman all accepting that Trisha and Eddie’s complaints were justified, they are losing their home to the neighbour who intimidated them – and who continues to break planning rules.

Habitat destruction and land reprofiling at Blaenpant has altered part of the Cernydd Carmel Special Area of Conservation beyond recognition. Special Areas of Conservation are a European Union designation for areas of the highest ecological value. Natural Resources Wales is insisting on a land restoration plan over the next ten years, with progress to be monitored three times a year in April, July and September. The scheme has been agreed in principle with the planning authority — Carmarthenshire County Council — and with Mr Thomas, and aims to restore both wet and dry heaths, and natural grassland species.

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Andrew Thomas’s retrospective application for a new roadway across a Special Area of Conservation ignores its protected status. 

Yet in summer 2016 the land has been closely mown, inhibiting protected species from regenerating.

Mr Thomas has not responded to an invitation to comment.

Indifference and hostility

The indifference to the fate of an important area of protected landscape matches the indifference and hostility which Trisha, Eddie and their supporters have met over many years.

“I have fought tirelessly for twelve years whilst suffering unprecedented abuse and intimidation from our neighbour, to prevent the loss of our home. I have tried desperately to communicate with the council in order to have our dire situation remedied.  It has been the consequences of the denial of the truth over so many years that has led to the loss of our home.  I have also made many attempts over these years to gain help and recognition from Ministers at the Assembly who similarly knew the details of our case and have shown utter indifference to our situation.  I would like one of the many  involved in our case who have been  fully aware of the seriousness of our situation to explain to me why they did not care enough to prevent this terrible injustice,  and why, when we did absolutely nothing wrong, have been made to pay such a huge price,” said Trisha.

PDR

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