Road Built Without Permission — But Councillors Say OK
Landowner at Maesybont allowed to retain newly constructed 550-metre tarmac road
Ffynnon Luan is a smallholding in Maesybont, Carmarthenshire, on a ridge of carboniferous limestone.
Carboniferous limestone has many industrial uses. It is quarried for roadstone and aggregates, is used in cement making, and in ground-up form for desulphurisation of flue gases.
Ffynnon Luan was up for auction late in 2014, a total of 35.4 acres surrounding the stone, unmodernised farmhouse, and yard of dilapidated buildings. With its small, hedged fields and woodland, Ffynnon Luan was a step back in time. The guide price was £180,000.
The buyer was Mr Andrew Thomas, owner of Blaenpant Farm, which is also on the limestone but on the other, southern side of Maesybont village. Blaenpant has been at the centre of planning controversy since soon after Mr Thomas purchased it in 2001 (see here, here and here).
Blaenpant lies within the Cernydd Carmel Special Area of Conservation, which means an area of such high ecological value that it is of European importance. Mr Thomas’s quarrying, land moving and road building, carried out without permission, totally altered his portion of the SAC. Natural Resources Wales told him to restore it, as far as possible – it can never return to how it was.
Retrospective planning permission enables people to carry out development, then apply for permission once the work is completed. Sometimes there are fines, but often the increased site value dwarfs any penalty. If a planning authority imposes an Enforcement Notice, requiring work to cease or be reverse, the fine can be up to £20,000 in a Magistrates Court, or unlimited in a Crown Court. Local authorities are short of money, though, and need to choose their legal battles very carefully, and sparingly.
Ffynnon Luan, which is not within the Special Area of Conservation, now has a super new road, about 3.5 metres wide and running for 550 metres across the smallholding to the B4297, in addition to the original access onto a single-track lane. Mr Thomas’s planning consultants, JCR Planning, told Carmarthenshire’s planning committee as part of a retrospective application, that “it is proposed to solely use this access for heavy vehicles transporting livestock, feeds and implements to Ffynnon Luan as part of the restoration of agriculture at this holding”. Without the new road, vehicles would have to use the lane, which lacks passing places and is flanked by deep drainage ditches, JCR Planning argued.
The road was constructed, without planning permission, in 2015.
Field hedges were also removed, apparently as part of Mr Thomas’s intention to improve the agricultural land in preparation for keeping beef cattle and sheep. The hedges are subject to a replacement notice.
This week, Carmarthenshire’s planning committee considered Mr Thomas’s application for retrospective planning permission for the road. Cllr Mansel Charles (Plaid Cymru, Llanegwad) proposed a site visit, but this was rejected by a single vote. The committee went on to give permission for the road, with only three councillors against, and one abstention.
Given that a typical cost for a tarmac footpath is over £40 a square metre,[i] a path of 550 metres by 3.5 metres would cost £77,000 or more, without even considering earthworks, drains or culverts, gates or fences. Ffynnon Luan does not have a new footpath, but a road intended for heavy vehicles and farm implements.
I guess Mr Thomas is anticipating a substantial uplift in the profitability of livestock farming, which on a 35-acre farm might be expected to provide a profit of less than £5,000 a year.[ii]
[i] ‘Estimating guide for path projects’, from the Paths for All Partnership, Scotland, 2014
[ii] ‘Welsh livestock survey shows gap between best and average farms’, by Debbie James, Farmers Weekly, November 19th 2014