West Wales News Review

Economy, environment, sustainability

Archive for the category “Planning”

News: Llangadog Egg Firm Applies for Lorry Restrictions to be Lifted

The new intensive but legally-named ‘free range’ 32,000-bird poultry unit at Godre Garreg, Carreg Sawdde, Llangadog, is ruffling neighbours’ feathers once again.

The indoor unit was constructed before farming company T V Hughes & Co provided a lorry passing place on the single-track access road, as a condition of planning permission. The passing place was supposed to be in an easily seen location on Carreg Sawdde Common, but it transpired that the land selected was owned by the Cawdor Estate, and not by T V Hughes & Co. The company eventually secured agreement from Carmarthenshire County Council for a passing place less visible to traffic approaching from the Llangadog to Bethlehem road.

Now the company is asking for restrictions on lorry visits to be amended so that deliveries and collections can take place on any day of the week, including Sundays and bank holidays, between 8am and 8pm, and at other times provided that the county council is notified in writing.

The existing condition is for deliveries and collections to be Monday to Saturday, 8am to 8pm, and never on Sundays or on bank holidays and other public holidays.

Location of the 32,000 bird egg unit, near the confluence of the Sawdde and Tywi rivers at Llangadog

The company’s reason for seeking to dispense with the condition is that they have changed to a different egg collection firm, and now collections are on Wednesdays and Sundays. The new arrangements have started without permission.

Mrs Sara Banner, who lives near Godre Garreg, has submitted an objection saying “What is the point of having planning conditions if they can just be varied to suit the requirements of the applicant?” She says that the conditions were put in place “to protect the amenity of local residents including not having deliveries and collections outside what are considered sociable hours”.

People living opposite the entrance to the chicken unit, and residents living alongside the lorries’ route, and in the village of Llangadog, will be greatly affected, Mrs Banner continued.

Comments on this application, E/39337, must be received by the county council by Friday September 27th.

Carmarthenshire County Council will not provide information to Econews West Wales on the grounds that we are not currently a member of a UK-wide media regulation scheme. Nevertheless, an earlier story about the egg unit, and opposition to it, is here.






Opinion: Tracking a Tragedy

Whistleblower hell

by Pat Dodd Racher

Why do whistleblowers suffer so much indignity and financial damage?

There is one case I have been following for seven years, but its origins go back 16 years to 2003. Authorities said it was a dispute between neighbours, and so it was, but also so much more.

Maybe there is an assumption by some that newcomers from over the Severn Bridge are more likely to be at fault than local people already living next door. Maybe the police don’t ask enough questions when an aggrieved resident accuses a neighbour of harassment. Maybe organisations are more concerned about damage to their reputations than about harm resulting from their inaction. In the case of retired couple Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts of Pantycastell Fach, Maesybont, Carmarthenshire, failings under all these headings, and more, have led to them experiencing years and years of victimisation.

Evidence has been studiously ignored to the point of asking why amass proof, why not just put Trisha and Eddie into Medieval ducking stools, and tell them if they drown they are innocent and if they survive, they are guilty? Damnation either way!

The ‘fake news’ phenomenon is hugely damaging. Take the crowds, or absence of them, at President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. Photographic evidence showed that Trump’s crowd was smaller than the crowd of his predecessor, Barack Obama. “Fake News,” trumpeted Trump, who in this way dismisses facts he doesn’t like, aided by legitimate fears that photographs can so easily be altered. Suspicions grow that all evidence, including evidence obtained by Trisha and Eddie, may be suspect, and that is a big step towards ignoring it.

The adversarial legal system in England and Wales does not help, either. The winners are the lawyers who present their arguments to greatest effect, so the central skill is persuasion, not investigation to illuminate the salient facts.


Dream cottage blues

Back in 2003, Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts from Sussex bought Pantycastell Fach, a 6.5-acre smallholding at Maesybont, from Mrs Ann Gifford, who was selling up after only six months. She had purchased from Mr John Lawday, who had alerted Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning department to unauthorised industrial operations at Blaenpant Farm, the next-door property. Arthur Bleasdale, who lived nearby at Ffynnon Goch, had also complained to the council that Blaenpant was the scene of industrial operations, and his concerns were logged. But pre-sale searches did not discover these complaints.

Trisha made a Freedom of Information request for data on complaints relating to Blaenpant which had reached the council’s planning department, and was given a file documenting complaint after complaint. But according to the council, Blaenpant Farm was merely a contact address for a haulage business operated elsewhere.

The pretty setting of Pantycastell Fach.

Trisha had been looking forward to a quiet life on the smallholding with its pretty cottage, and enough land for her elderly Connemara mare Minnie and for the cattery she hoped to establish – and for which she obtained planning permission. The couple paid mostly in cash but also took out a mortgage to fund construction of the cattery.

The cattery was never built, because of problems which emerged about a year after the couple moved in, and which left Trisha feeling too nervous to remain in the cottage on her own. This meant that Eddie, who had been intending to live in Sussex for part of the week and repay the mortgage with earnings from his taxi business there, decided he had to live in the cottage full-time, so that Trisha would not be alone.

Why had Trisha become anxious? She was embroiled in a dispute with their neighbours, a dispute which took over her life, and which diminished the pair’s financial resources so much that the only way they could repay the mortgage is to sell the property — but their long-running history of dispute with the next-door landowner, which would have to be declared to an intending purchaser, depressed the market value. Estate agent Ewan Davies of BJP said on TV in 2006 that the property had lost at least 30% of its market value, and Dewi Price of Roderick Price estimated a value drop of a similar amount.

Blaenpant next door was, since 2001, home to Andrew Thomas and the late Karen Bowen Thomas. Karen ran a heavy haulage business, KBHS Ltd, operating without planning permission on what was supposed to be a farm. Andrew Thomas, a scrap metal wholesaler, is the main owner of A J T Recycling Ltd, a company with almost £1.5 million in shareholders’ funds at the end of November 2018.

KBHS Ltd, which was dissolved in 2014, had a website stating the company’s base as Blaenpant Farm, and describing a large contract undertaken in 2002 for the removal of 120,000 cubic metres of material over a 13-week period. The products and services listed included demolition, excavation, groundworks, scrap metal and tipper hire. This was an industrial operation, open seven days a week, Monday to Sunday, and not light industrial either.


Lots of planning applications, but none for industrial operations

Seventeen planning applications relating to Blaenpant, between 1998 and 2011, are recorded in Carmarthenshire’s planning department. Not one of them applies for any industrial activity. All but one are ‘agricultural’ or ‘agricultural/equestrian’ in nature. The first application (E/01257), dated August 21st 1998 and from Mr R Jones, was to convert a farm building into a dwelling. This was refused. The next application (TG/01947), on July 26th 2002 and by Karen Bowen Thomas, was a prior notification of permitted agricultural or forestry development, and the planning department decided that the work, to level the land on top of an old quarry, could go ahead without any planning permission.

A few days later, on July 31st 2002, another quite small application (TG/02011) was received, for a new access from the public road, and was approved. After a gap of 18 months, on January 23rd 2004, Karen Bowen Thomas submitted a further notification of permitted development for agriculture or forestry (E/05992), this time to import about 500 tons of subsoil and topsoil. Planning officers agreed that this was indeed permitted development.

In April 2004 came another notification (E/06708) for intended permitted development, for an agricultural implement store and hay shed, 99 feet by 50 feet. This did not get the go-ahead, and Karen Bowen Thomas was told to submit a formal planning application. She did so in July, asking (E/07519) for a store for farm machinery and hay, but the planning committee said no. Refusal was recommended to the committee by planning officer Ceri Davies, who explained that there was “insufficient justification for the proposed development at this location due to the lack of agricultural activity at the farm unit” and also because the applicant had failed to demonstrate that the shed was reasonably necessary for agriculture.

So back in 2004 the council was well aware of a lack of agricultural activity at Blaenpant.

Karen Bowen Thomas appealed, and probably to the annoyance of the county council, the appeal was upheld. The shed was built, with the help of another permitted development (E/09576) from the council, for the excavation of quarry overburden and rock and the use of the material for levelling the ground on which the building would be constructed.

Next, in October 2005, Mr and Mrs Thomas applied (E/11544) to convert a former cowshed to a farm office and tack room, and received permission. In August 2006, they applied (E/14109) for a detached garage, which was allowed. They were not so fortunate with a much larger application (E/14145) the same month, for a cow shed 97 feet by 30 feet, which was refused for lack of agricultural activity and no demonstrable need for a large cow shed.

After a minor application (E/14648) for roof alterations on another building, which was approved, the cow shed application was resubmitted in all but name, this time (E/17981) as a notification of permitted development and in the guise of a hay and implement shed, a little smaller at 78 feet by 30 feet but on the same site as the proposed building in application E/14145. This would be the second large implement and hay store, on a farm where there was a “lack of agricultural activity”.  The planning department agreed that this was indeed permitted agricultural development not requiring any planning permission, and the building was constructed.

The first and second hay and implement storage buildings had a total length of 177 feet, and sufficient indoor space to store a substantial number of tractors or other vehicles. The complex would be far less noticeable if it were screened with trees, and if attractively landscaped could look smart on an industrial estate, but it is not located on a business park. The home of Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts is immediately to the south, accessed by a track which crosses Blaenpant land.

The applications continued. In January 2008 Mr and Mrs Thomas requested permitted development rights (E/18176) for a new road, opening into the access track to Trisha Breckman’s and Eddie Roberts’ home. Planners told them that formal permission would be necessary, and the road was not constructed.

Later the same year, in September, Mr and Mrs Thomas asked (E/19928) for a replacement agricultural building, which was allowed as the footprint was only slightly larger than the existing structure. In July 2009 Mr Thomas, who by then was a widower, applied retrospectively (E/21494) for a hardstanding area adjoining the Carmel Transmitter Mast, for the “parking and storage of agricultural vehicles and implements”, but this was turned down and the subsequent appeal was dismissed.

In rejecting the application, the planning team revealed  some knowledge about the nature of activities at Blaenpant, stating “It is acknowledged that the farm complex is occasionally utilised to park some of the applicant’s haulage vehicles”, but justified this as “permitted under the provisions of the General Permitted Development Order”. This is a long document but Part 4, Class B, states that “the use of any land for any purpose for not more than 28 days in total in any calendar year” is permitted. The applicant’s undoing was the fact that the storage area by the mast had already been hard-surfaced, and was being used for parking  vehicles, storage containers and a “considerable amount of deposited materials”, and so planners concluded the development was “excessive in scale particularly due to the lack of existing agricultural activity currently taking place on the land”.

Finally, in November 2011, Mr Thomas received permission (E/25234) for changing the use of one building from agriculture to mixed equine stabling and agriculture, and for the parking of equestrian vehicles, and (E/25246) also for resurfacing an access to fields with clean stone.

Trisha Breckman: sixteen stressful years.

Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts are victims of the council’s initial belief that Blaenpant was an ordinary farm, and of the determination to cling on to that belief in public when officers’ responses to the applications for big new buildings show their awareness that Blaenpant was definitely not an ordinary farm.  They are also victims of the very common shoot-the-messenger syndrome. When you don’t want to deal with bad news, you might yell at the messenger, even land a right hook and floor him, because doing that seems a whole lot easier, and more immediately satisfying, than resolving the underlying issue.


Threats and bullying

There are videos about the Breckman/Roberts case on You Tube. They include five broadcasts of the TV news programme Wales This Week, between February 2006 and March 2008, which show in horrible detail the harassment suffered by Trisha and Eddie. That harassment, emanating from the ‘farm’ next door, included using motorway crash barriers to narrow the access track from 14 feet to nine, so narrow that the Fire Brigade complained that it was too narrow for a fire engine. Trisha and Eddie had a legal right of way over the track, which was part of the property of Blaenpant Farm. Two solid gates with locks were erected across the track, making it difficult for Trisha and Eddie to leave their cottage. An old, dilapidated removal-van type lorry was parked on the boundary close to the cottage and not removed until 2017; a large board on stilts blocked the view from a bedroom; two pigs called Eddie and Trisha were put in a pen directly under human Trisha and Eddie’s bedroom window. The TV programme in February 2006 showed Karen Bowen Thomas telling Trisha pig not to poke her nose in where it wasn’t wanted.

An old heavy goods vehicle loomed above Trisha’s and Eddie’s home. It has been removed.

“I didn’t have any cross words with neighbours in the first year,” said Trisha. “The arguments with them only began once they had altered our right of way. That happened after Adam Price, then our MP, wrote to the county council in November 2004 about the complaints over unlawful, noisy industrial operations such as quarrying and heavy haulage at Blaenpant, when there was no planning permission for such activities. The Thomases appear to have been told that Adam had written and took offence. They began the harassment immediately, and narrowed our right of way in January 2005.

“The quarrying was within the Cernydd Carmel Special Area of Conservation, and should not have been done without permission from both the county council and the then-Countryside Council for Wales, which since 2013 has been part of Natural Resources Wales.”

Special Areas of Conservation are approved by the European Union and are supposed to be protected and preserved. Cernydd Carmel is a limestone ridge with important topographical and biological features, “but at Blaenpant the limestone was quarried unlawfully and stone was removed,” said Trisha.


Authorities turned on the victims

What to do? “The council advised us to collect evidence of the unauthorised activities,” said Trisha. “So we started to film the haulage lorries, including lorries carrying quarried stone, and sent this evidence to planning enforcement.” The film evidence convinced ITV Wales’ current affairs programme Wales This Week, which reported on the dispute multiple times between June 2005 and March 2008, and also persuaded BBC1 Wales, which broadcast The Good Life Gone Bad in October 2012. The programmes are on You Tube for anyone to watch.

But the council did nothing.

Andrew and Karen, stepping up their campaign, complained that Trisha’s and Eddie’s filming was harassment against them. They took their accusation to the police, and soon two officers were knocking on the door at Pantycastell Fach, asking for the films, arresting Trisha and removing her to a police cell. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided that the filming showed Trisha and Eddie harassing Andrew and Karen, which suggests that either they did not view the films or did not understand them, because the opposite was clear to the Wales This Week team. In the end, the CPS realised their mistake, but not before heaping more pressure on beleaguered Eddie and Trisha.

Was it sloppy assessment? Deliberate bias? Reluctance to confront the aggressors? Andrew Thomas was convicted in 2007 of assaulting two women the previous year, two women who were trying to stop him from insulting Eddie Roberts as Eddie sat in his taxi in Carmarthen. Andrew Thomas pushed over witness Katy Griffiths, and Carey Worthy, a passer-by, said it was “hideous behaviour”.

Accusations from Andrew and Karen resulted in Trisha being arrested six times. Almost ten years on in 2016, the-then Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys Police, Christopher Salmon, made a full, unreserved apology – an apology which Trisha and Eddie said went far beyond any statement made by Carmarthenshire County Council, the local planning authority in the case.

The police apology, signed by Simon Prince, the Chief Constable, and Christopher Salmon, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys, includes these words:

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

 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.”

Despite this apology, the repercussions of officialdom’s hostility remain, and include financial problems which the couple cannot easily resolve because Trisha and Eddie have advanced in age, Trisha to 75 and Eddie to 82.

Although Carmarthenshire County Council refused to accept officially that planning regulations were being flouted at Blaenpant, Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Plaid Cymru), the former Welsh Assembly member for Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, and current county councillor Cefin Campbell (Plaid Cymru), both accepted that Trisha and Eddie have suffered because of intransigence by the county council, and supported them through difficult times.


What lorries?

The haulage business at Blaenpant, operating when Trisha and Eddie moved in to Pantycastell Fach in 2003, did not exist in the eyes of the county council. The then-Planning Enforcement Manager, Brian Canning, and the then-Head of Planning Services, Eifion Bowen, said there was no breach of planning regulations. Therefore there was no industrial business operating without the need to pay business rates (because farms are exempt). Instead, officers in the planning department accused Trisha and Eddie of making baseless complaints. Eventually the pensioner couple were put on a list of persistent complainants and for a time were stopped from contacting council staff and councillors, with the exception of one designated person, the then-Director of Regeneration and Leisure, Dave Gilbert.

The council’s verdict that the scale of industrial activity on the yard at Blaenpant was acceptable for a farm meant that the council, and for a time the police, took the side of Andrew Thomas and the late Karen Bowen Thomas when they, enraged that Trisha and Eddie had complained about industrial operations on Blaenpant, embarked upon their well-documented campaign of harassment.


“Unlawful” – verdict of Planning Inspector

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. Mr Cochrane said the land must be returned to agriculture. Later Mr Cochrane, after retirement, 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, near Pantycastell Fach, 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.

“It demonstrates to me that there is very little genuine farming activity at Blaenpant and that other, possibly unauthorised, commercial activities are occupying the land and the buildings reserved by planning conditions for agricultural use.”


“Maladministration” – Public Services Ombudsman

This contradiction of the ‘Blaenpant is a farm’ position, which Carmarthenshire’s planning department maintained in public, was reinforced in 2012 when a verdict of maladministration from the then-Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Peter Tyndall, had to be accepted by the county council, but to Eddie and Trisha it seemed that acceptance was grudging, and they did not notice any change in the council’s attitude to them.

The 188-page anonymised report from the Ombudsman contains, as Appendix 3, comments from the former Planning Enforcement Manager for Carmarthenshire County Council. The officer in the role in the early 2000s was Brian Canning. ITV’s Wales This Week, in June 2005, got hold of an internal email from Brian Canning, who had written: “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 Planning Enforcement Manager told the Ombudsman, in his reply to the draft report, that

“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.”

His reply maintained that “we acted with integrity in not being intimidated by this woman, who would seek to move heaven and earth to get her way”.

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 earlier complaints 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.

Andrew 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, but the Planning Enforcement Manager did not think that any weight should be attached to this statement. In his view, the late Karen Bowen Thomas, who died at the end of 2008, 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.

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. 


In what seems a revealing statement, 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.

He also claimed, falsely, that Trisha had been convicted of assaulting Karen Bowen Thomas.

In his view, Trisha was a “complete nutcase”, and the Ombudsman’s investigation was “a worthless process”.

The Head of Planning Services was the immediate superior of the Planning Enforcement Manager, and he did not consider that the council had failed to do something it should have done. He did, though, suggest to the Ombudsman that planning enforcement was not the best process for mediation, and therefore it could be helpful to have a more formal mediation service.

But there was no mediation.

In 2015, on Friday October 9th, I contacted the county council’s press office with these three questions:

  1. Will Carmarthenshire County Council issue a complete apology to acquit Mrs Breckman from blame for the breakdown in relations with Mrs and Mrs Thomas which resulted in Mrs Breckman’s arrests? (The Ombudsman required the county council to issue an apology, but in Mrs Breckman’s view it was very restricted and failed to absolve her from all blame.)
  2. Will all councillors be given access to the Ombudsman’s full report? (The Ombudsman required this to happen, but I have been informed that only an edited version was offered, and then only to members of the planning committee.)
  3. Has the county council amended the procedures around planning enforcement, so that when there is a profound disagreement between a complainant and an enforcement officer, an independent arbitrator is brought in at an early stage? (This was a suggestion made by Mr Eifion Bowen, former Head of Planning Services, and reported by the Ombudsman.)

A reply came at 1pm on Monday October 12th 2015, in the form of a statement by Mark James, who was the county council’s Chief Executive between March 2002 and June 2019, when he retired. The statement did not, in my view, respond to any of the questions I had asked. Mr James said:

“The most recent outcome of an investigation (August 2015) by the Ombudsman on a complaint by Mrs Breckman concluded: ‘I believe that the Council has taken the appropriate steps in investigating the breaches of planning control reported and identified and issuing proceedings to either restore the land to its former condition or, in the case of the unauthorised track, consider its planning merits through the submission of an application. Again, I cannot identify any evidence of maladministration in the way in which the Council has acted.”

I had not asked about an unauthorised track. On the matters of events leading to Mrs Breckman’s arrests (for which the police have now apologised); of the 2012 Ombudsman’s report being withheld from the full council; and of any plans to bring in independent arbitration — silence.

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. The council were also fully informed of the Thomases’ unlawful industrial activities by John Lawday, 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.


Council has power but not duty to investigate breaches of planning law – so no compensation

Trisha and Eddie applied to the county council for compensation, but not a penny has been offered.

“We are sorry to inform you that liability is denied,” said the letter to them from Weightmans, specialist lawyers engaged by the county council, in 2016 – 13 years down the line.

Denial of liability, in a letter received by Trisha Breckman on Wednesday October 26 2016, was because “the law of England and Wales does not allow an individual to recover compensation from a public body where the statutory duty or power involved did not itself confer a private law cause of action for a failure to exercise it”.

In Weightman’s stated view, the county council has the power to act to stop breaches of planning regulations, but does not have a legal duty to do so, and as there is no legal duty to act, no compensation is payable.

Weightmans also said that “the law states that damages in negligence for economic loss are not recoverable when unaccompanied by physical property damage or personal injury”, and also “we believe that your claims are statute barred. The law says that any claims for loss (other than personal injuries) must be brought within six years of the actions causing any loss. The actions which you complain about took place more than six years ago.”

The letter warns against any further action, with the words “Should you commence proceedings, we will ask the court to strike them out immediately.”

So the only avenue which Mrs Breckman and Mr Roberts thought was open to them, to seek compensation for being unable to launch and run their proposed cattery business because of harassment and intimidation from the people next door, now has locked gates across it – just like the lane to their cottage when Mr and Mrs Thomas put gates across that.

One implication of this ‘power not duty’ is lack of fairness. It’s easy to imagine a situation in which a planning authority forces a stop to unpermitted quarrying, for example, next door to a Mr X, but allows similar activity next door to Mrs Y.


Gap in legal obligations

The ‘power’ but not the obligation to stop unlawful activities is a ‘get-out-of-jail’ card for public bodies which want to avoid paying any compensation, but it also means that the victims of the unlawful activities can suffer severe financial loss with no opportunity of any recompense.

In this case, Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts spent more than £20,000 on legal fees and their health deteriorated. Trisha and Eddie are now threatened with eviction because they do not have the money to repay the mortgage they took out in 2003 to build the cattery that they did not construct because Andrew Thomas made it so difficult for them, and therefore for future clients, to enter and exit the smallholding. It does not matter that the active harassment stopped a decade ago, the damage was done. The county council and its Chief Executive, the recently retired Mark James CBE, labelled Trisha a persistent complainant and prevented her from contacting councillors, thus closing another door to redress. Both Trisha and Eddie are well over state pension age and can no longer earn as much as was possible in the past.

On Christmas Eve 2018, what might have been a Christmas card was in fact a letter from a firm called Mortgage Agency Services, asking for more than £80,000 before the end of January, to clear the mortgage. Trisha and Eddie did not have that money.

Blaenpant next door came up for sale in September 2019, marketed as an equestrian unit.

Advert for Blaenpant, September 2019. The large limestone quarry in the background, from which stone was removed without authorisation, according to Trisha Breckman’s evidence, is in a Special Area of Conservation of European significance which is supposed to be fully protected.

The harassment stopped, and the track to Pantycastell Fach is back to its former width, but that cannot wipe out the years of aggravation. Surely the fact that the Ombudsman found Carmarthenshire County Council guilty of maladministration means that the council has a moral, even if not a legal, obligation to compensate Trisha and Eddie, who were victimised for whistleblowing.

A voluntary settlement by Carmarthenshire County Council would polish the council’s reputation as well as compensating Trisha and Eddie for years of suffering from the council’s indifference to the evidence with which they were provided.

The two pensioners can never have the lost years back.

I would have liked to speak to county council personnel about possible resolutions to the difficult situation in which Trisha and Eddie find themselves, but was informed by the Press Office earlier in 2019 that no member of staff will communicate with me professionally unless and until Econews West Wales belongs to an official media regulation scheme.


News: Lack of a Layby Holds Up Operation of Controversial Llangadog Poultry Business

For the want of a passing place…

Constructing a large new building before meeting all the conditions of planning permission is risky.

This is the case at Carregsawdde, Llangadog, where Mr Eifion Hughes of T V Hughes & Co, Godre Garreg, has permission for a 32,000-bird ‘free range’[i] egg-laying unit and adjacent manure store. One of the conditions of the permission is the creation of a layby passing place on the narrow road across Carregsawdde Common, to allow for two-way traffic.

A layby passing place should be constructed here — but the land is on Carregsawdde Common

The proposed passing place (pictured) is part of the common, so T V Hughes & Co proposed deregistering the layby land and swapping some of Godre Garreg’s own land by way of compensation. It sounds simple – but a serious snag emerged. Although Mr Eifion Hughes has commoner’s rights for sheep to graze the common, it appears that neither he personally nor T V Hughes Ltd has proof of ownership of the 194-acre level expanse of grassland, including the site for the layby.

West Wales News Review understands that ownership of the common is likely still be with the Cawdor Estate, a remnant of the 50,000 or so acres which the Vaughans of Golden Grove owned in Carmarthenshire from the early 17th century. The estate was inherited by the 1st Baron Cawdor in 1804.

Common land cannot be deregistered without the consent of the owner. This simple fact is holding up the provision of the layby passing place which is mandatory before the egg production unit can start operations. The situation is being monitored by the Planning Inspectorate of the Welsh Government.

Meanwhile the chicken building, 140 metres long and 20 metres wide, is up.

The impressively large new poultry building

The poultry unit application was itself controversial, supported by many in the farming community, but opposed by dozens of local residents, who fear odours, toxicity and environmental damage. In addition, 1,300 people signed a petition against the scheme.

The controversy highlights the tensions between meeting consumers’ expectations of plentiful and affordable food, in this case eggs, and local people’s worries about risks to their health and to the environment.

Report admits critical ammonia levels would be exceeded

A report into likely ammonia emissions, prepared as part of the planning application, stated that (I quote): “The exceedance of the Critical Level is predicted to impact upon a stretch of the River Towi [Tywi] SAC of length approximately 1.0 km and the exceedance of the Critical Load is predicted to impact a stretch of approximately 1.2 km of the River Towi [Tywi] SAC. It should be noted that the River Towi [Tywi] SSSI/SAC, is a rather dynamic river bed and that the effects of excess nitrogen deposition act over a multi-annual timescale and therefore, the cited ruderal[ii]and ephemeral features are unlikely to be affected adversely.” [My emphases]

SAC stands for Special Area of Conservation. These are EU-designated areas, and in the words of DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, they are “strictly protected sites designated under the EC [European Community] Habitats Directive. … The listed habitat types and species are those considered to be most in need of conservation at a European level (excluding birds)”. The statement that the Tywi is a “rather dynamic river bed” is an opinion that may be correct sometimes, but not in dry summers. Climate change means we are likely to experience more extreme weather, including droughts.

The Sawdde (foreground) flows into the Tywi at Carregsawdde Common

Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning committee appears to have decided that breaching ammonia limits was unimportant and outweighed by the financial benefits the poultry is expected to bring to the farm. Natural Resources Wales contributed to this decision with the verdict that damage to the SAC would not be significant.

“NRW assessed the information accompanying the application, including the nutrient and manure management plans, the onsite storage facility[iii, export of manure off site and air quality reports. Based on the information provided, NRW cannot conclude that the development will have a significant effect on the Afon Tywi SAC features, “ West Wales News Review was told.

The statement from NRW also said: “With regards to the development affecting Carregsawdde Common, this land is not a designated site for any biological features and therefore falls outside NRW’s remit for comments.”

This section of Carregsawdde Common extends from Godre Garreg in the background to the Sawdde river (behind the photographer’s position)

Ammonia is a by-product of poultry manure. Ammonia (NH3), a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, has unpleasant impacts.

The Air Pollution Information System, sponsored by the Environment Agency, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and seven other organisations, summarises the effects on vegetation:

  • Eutrophication leading to changes in species assemblages; increase in N [nitrogen] loving species (e.g. grasses) and species that can up regulate their carbon assimilation at the expense of species that are conservative in their N use.
  • Shift in dominance from mosses, lichens and ericoids (heath species) towards grasses like Deschampsia flexuosa, Molinia caerulea and ruderal species, e.g. Chamerion angustifolium, Rumex acetosella, Rubus idaeus.
  • Increased risk of frost damage in spring (van der Eerden et al 1991)
  • Increased winter desiccation levels in Calluna and summer drought stress
  • Increase in N loving epiphytes, e.g. Xanthoria parietina, at the expense of epiphytes that prefer acid bark.
  • Increased incidence of pest and pathogen attack, e.g. heather beetle outbreaks.
  • Direct damage and death of sensitive species, e.g. lichens and mosses, Sphagnum, Pleurozium schreberi.
  • Reduced root growth and mycorrhizal infection leading to reduced nutrient uptake, sensitivity to drought and nutrient imbalance with respect to N that is taken up via the foliage (Perez Soba 1995 for Scots pine).
  • Increase in soil pH follows acidification.
  • Ammonia excess will lead to increases in nitrification and denitrification, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. [My emphases]

Potential hazards to human health

There are potential impacts on people, too. The Health and Safety Executive warns that dust emanating from poultry units can vary in composition from pure wood dust to a complex mixture of organic and inorganic particles, faecal material, feathers, dander (skin material), mites, bacteria, fungi and fungal spores and endotoxins depending on the type of birds, the work activity and the point in the growing or production cycle. “Some of the individual components, eg storage mites and softwood dust, are known asthmagens (substances that are capable of causing occupational asthma), the HSE counsels.

Poultry dust contains particles of varying size in the range approximately 0.5-50 microns, the HSE’s explanation continues. “The presence of particles in the respirable range …. means that poultry dust particles can penetrate into the gas exchange region of the lung. Larger particles can also cause disease by impacting in the upper and larger airways below the vocal cords.

“Bacteria, fungi and their components (often referred to under the generic description of bioaerosols) are likely to be components of the dust. They may be present as single cells or spores, clumps of cells or chains of spores, or may be attached to other dust components and therefore be present in a range of particle sizes. There will be a combination of live and dead organisms, but both may trigger allergic response. In addition to particulates, gases may build up as a result of the decomposition of biological material and these include ammonia and hydrogen sulphide. These substances have acute effects on the respiratory system and may compound the effects of the dust.”

Dust from the fans on the chicken unit at Godre Garreg will be blown on the wind, which characteristically and often moves from south west to north east, therefore over nearby properties and the whole of Llangadog village, which is less than half a mile away.

If wrongly sited, and also if there is a concentration in a particular area, ‘free range’ poultry units like that at Godre Garreg can damage the environment and human health. They may be misleadingly named, but they (and their free range name) are at present entirely legal.

Natural Resources Wales is now investigating the impact of multiple intensive poultry units on air, water and land pollution, “so that informed decisions can be taken about the regulation of poultry farms in the future”.  NRW goes on to tell West Wales News Review that the “changes we made to our assessment guidance last year have resulted in many more applications for planning permission or environmental permits needing a detailed impact assessment prior to a decision being made. We also require assessment to include the combined impact of multiple farms in the area of the application, so additional pollution is not built up incrementally.”

The Godre Garreg application predates this guidance, but is still hamstrung by the absence of a layby at the designated point on Carregsawdde Common. The county council’s planning department sent West Wales News Review a statement saying that the Common Lands Officer has not been consulted on the application for land exchange, the agent[iv] handling the application for T V Hughes & Co has not yet responded to a query whether such a consultation is on the way, and there has been no application to revoke that particular planning condition.

So at present T V Hughes & Co have a huge poultry building which they cannot use for its intended purpose.

Mr Eifion Hughes was invited on January 24th to comment on the layby issue, and on the concerns of some Llangadog residents about the potential impacts of the unit, but by January 28th had not yet opted to do so.

[i] In this context free range means the hens are housed indoors but are not confined in individual cages, and there are exit doors as part of the design, so that hens have some access to the exterior.

[ii] Ruderal plants are so called because they are the first to colonise disturbed land.

[iii] The manure store is not yet built.

[iv] Roger Parry & Partners, Oswestry office.


Opinion: Whistleblowing Plunges Maesybont Couple into Disaster

Whistleblowing too often leads to blowback which flattens the complainants, even ending their careers and badly hurting them financially.

Whistleblower Trisha Breckman and partner Eddie Roberts, from Maesybont, blew the whistle against Carmarthenshire Council’s Planning Department, and are about to lose their house.

The connection between the whistleblowing and the immediate likelihood of being turfed out of their home is complicated and convoluted, but real.

Trisha Breckman: neighbour’s planning breaches were ignored, to her detriment. 

It all began 16 years ago when Trisha and Eddie moved to a six-and-a-half acre smallholding, Pantycastell  Fach, in Maesybont, and realised that the property next door, Blaenpant Farm, was not solely a farm but also an unlicensed site for heavy haulage and quarrying. They discovered that other people had complained, including a previous owner of Pantycastell  Fach. News of their investigations got back to Blaenpant’s occupants, recycling company owner Andrew Thomas and the late Karen Bowen Thomas. Their retaliation spiralled into severe harassment and intimidation, revealed in print and in television documentaries.*


The county council and its Chief Executive, then as now the about-to-retire Mark James CBE, declined to do anything to curb the planning breaches at Blaenpant, and instead labelled Trisha a persistent complainant and prevented her from contacting councillors.

Trisha’s and Eddie’s view from their cottage was blocked by a scrap lorry placed there by the occupants of Blaenpant next door. This was just one of many acts of harassment.

The conflict damaged Trisha’s health. She became too nervous to be at home alone, in case Andrew Thomas and Karen Bowen Thomas launched into a new tirade of aggression, so Eddie gave up his work in Sussex to be with her. The access track to Pantycastell  Fach passed over Blaenpant land, and to make life difficult, Mr Thomas erected motorway-style barriers to narrow the track from 14 feet to nine, and put gates across, so it was hard for Trisha and Eddie to leave their home, and to return, and large vehicles could not use the track at all. All the aggravation meant that they did not open the cattery for which they had planning permission, and because Eddie had given up his work to stay with Trisha, and because of the legal fees they were incurring, they could no longer repay their mortgage.


On Christmas Eve 2018, what might have been a Christmas card was in fact a letter from a firm called Mortgage Agency Services, asking for more than £80,000 before the end of January, to clear the mortgage. Trisha and Eddie do not now have that money.

Although the county council denied all responsibility, in 2010 Planning Inspector Clive Cochrane backed up Trisha’s and Eddie’s complaints. In 2012, the then Public Services Ombudsman, Peter Tyndall, found the council guilty of maladministration, but the council did nothing. In 2016 the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys at the time, Christopher Salmon, issued a full apology for wrongful arrests of Trisha (six arrests instigated by Karen Bowen Thomas and Andrew Thomas). The Chief Constable then, Simon Prince, also apologised. Trisha and Eddie’s County Councillor, Cefin Campbell, tried to help. So did Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas and his successor, Adam Price. But no breakthrough.

Legal loophole

Trisha and Eddie applied to the council for compensation, but this was rejected by the council’s lawyers Weightmans late in 2016 because “the law of England and Wales does not allow an individual to recover compensation from a public body where the statutory duty or power involved did not itself confer a private law cause of action for a failure to exercise it”.

It all boiled down to the legal point that a planning authority can investigate planning breaches, but is not obliged to do so. In the case of Trisha and Eddie, Carmarthenshire County Council actively chose not to investigate, or to admit publicly what certain planning staff already knew. A culture of denial held sway.  This advantaged those operating at Blaenpant without permission, but gravely disadvantaged Trisha and Eddie. Their lives have been blighted for sixteen years – seven years of strife and nine of coping with the repercussions. Eddie is now 82 and Trisha is 75. The past 16 years have been exceptionally stressful for both of them.

Ex-gratia payment surely due

The harassment has stopped, and the track to Pantycastell Fach is back to its former width, but that cannot wipe out the years of aggravation. Surely the fact that the Ombudsman found Carmarthenshire County Council guilty of maladministration means that Trisha and Eddie deserve an ex-gratia payment?

Whistleblowers are essential to help society battle corruption and criminality, but how many of us would be whistleblowers if the evidence we present is ignored and buried, or turned into a boomerang to attack us?

*e.g. Wales This Week in October 2007 and March 2008, and The Good Life Gone Bad, October 2012. They can be watched on You Tube.


Businessman Outmanoeuvres Council

Ffynnon Luan, a rather dilapidated but grassy green 35-acre smallholding near Maesybont, Carmarthenshire, was up for auction in 2014. The buyer was local businessman Andrew Thomas, whose farm at Blaenpant, Maesybont, has featured several times in West Wales News Review (here, here and here, for example, showing how successfully he has outmanoeuvred the county council).

This is what Ffynnon Luan looked like from the air before Mr Thomas acquired it.

Ffynnon Luan farmhouse is in the central zone of the photo above the strip of woodland, and surrounded by small hedged fields. The photo was submitted with an agricultural planning application. 

Then this happened — scraping away the surface on a Ffynnon Luan section of the carboniferous limestone ridge south of the river Tywi. Carboniferous limestone is, of course, a valuable rock, used for roadstone and aggregates, and for making cement, and when ground-up it helps desulphurize flue gases.

Surface scraped at Ffynnon Luan. Photo from Google Earth. 

Ffynnon Luan had a new road, about 3.5 metres wide 550 metres long, constructed across the farm to the B4297 Dryslwyn to Gorslas road, as an 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 (the work had already started) 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.

Removing the surface of farmland is not what most of us understand by agriculture, but Ffynnon Luan has received only agricultural planning permission, for the road and for a recent steel-framed building to house 100 beef cattle, for which an application was submitted in 2017.

This is the building.

Lots of space for heavy lorries and wagons, and a large multi-purpose building. 

The scraped land is green again, according to a local resident, but lorries still go backwards and forwards along the broad farm road. In 2015, a year after Mr Thomas bought the property, a neighbour wrote to Carmarthenshire County Council complaining about “noise, disturbance and the danger of lorries going at speed, back and forth to the site, carrying earth and boulders”.

Mr Thomas is a long-established businessman who owns AJT Recycling Ltd, with a scrap materials yard in Fforestfach, Swansea and shareholders’ funds of almost £920,000 at the end of November 2017, almost double the previous year’s total.

The issue is not so much what is happening on Ffynnon Luan now, but the fact that the farm has not received planning permission for anything except purely agricultural activities.

Even if some believe that planning controls are unnecessary, is it fair to turn a blind eye in some circumstances but not others? I have only to think of the case of Mr Andrew Redman, who was forced by Carmarthenshire’s planners to remove a livestock shelter on skids from a field, although usually such shelters do not require permission.

PDR, expressing a personal opinion


Llandeilo Bypass Route — Unsafely Close To Ysgol Bro Dinefwr?

The Llandeilo bypass could be squeezed between Ysgol Bro Dinefwr and houses in Ffairfach. 

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 13th, 2pm to 7pm in Llandeilo Civic Hall, Crescent Road — there is a public consultation about the construction of a Llandeilo bypass.

If you want to know more, you can contact Llandeilo’s county councillor, Edward Thomas, on 07842 649261, email egthomas@sirgar.gov.uk.

A leaflet delivered locally draws attention to air pollution within about 30 metres of Ysgol Bro Dinefwr, and to fears that “heavy, fast-moving traffic will threaten the safety of children travelling to and from the school”.

Talk of a Llandeilo bypass, which began in 1939, has resurfaced amid rising worry about dangerous numbers of heavy vehicles, and illegal levels of air pollution, along the A483 Manchester to Swansea trunk road where it slices through the centre of the town.

All the possible routes considered so far have drawbacks – and the lately built Ysgol Bro Dinefwr, at Love Lodge Farm, Ffairfach, could cause new and expensive complications.

The Welsh Government’s budget, agreed with the Plaid Cymru opposition in October 2016, includes a commitment to explore ways of bringing forward construction of a Llandeilo bypass.

The bypass project, which would improve air quality and road safety in the town, but would damage historic landscapes regardless of the route selected, has been prepared for dusting off a number of times, but remained shelved. In 2013 Edwina Hart, then the Welsh Government’s Minister for Economics, Science and Transport, gave a start date of 2016. Welcoming the news, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board member responsible for transport at the time, Pontamman’s Colin Evans, said the bypass would be likely to cost over £40 million.

Several routes have been proposed over the years. The Outer Western Route, not a preferred option, would slice right through the protected landscape of Dinefwr Park and the new £30 million, 1,200-pupil Bro Dinefwr school, and so is off the table.

The Inner Western Route and the Inner Eastern Route would both require a roundabout where the eastern boundary of the school meets the A476 road to Cross Hands, which is used by much traffic bound for the A48 and M4.

The Outer Eastern Route avoids going anywhere near the new school, but it also avoids meeting the A476.

The prospect of a large roundabout in the cramped space between Ysgol Bro Dinefwr and Ffairfach raises issues of risks to pedestrians and of too-close proximity to the vehicle entrance to the school, which is just yards further along the A476.

During construction works, building a roundabout between the school and Ffairfach would impede and slow down access to the school for vehicles and pedestrians.

The Welsh Government, though, said late in 2016 that it had no concerns about fitting in a roundabout between the new school and Ffairfach.

A spokesperson said: “The proposed route of the Eastern Bypass of Llandeilo has been protected for a number of years and pre-dates the construction of Bro Dinefwr comprehensive school. When the local planning authority was developing proposals for the school they consulted with our transport department to ensure that the school was positioned to take into account the proposed bypass route.”

There is less space, though, than that occupied by the A40-A483 roundabout on the eastern side of Llandeilo, and the far larger numbers of pedestrians who would need to cross the bypass roundabout would surely require wide paths, taking up even more room.


Secret Viability Reports Let Developers Escape Affordable Home Contributions

‘Private Property Rules OK’ is the philosophy of the past four decades, and has reduced the power of local government to serve communities. Section 106 agreements – named from Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 — are one example of ways in which the public can be short-changed.

Councils can use Section 106 agreements to require developers to contribute to community viability, often by providing money towards affordable homes.

But developers have found it relatively simple to circumvent Section 106. Specialist firms offer to do the work for them, by providing viability reports (to explain why the developer cannot afford to make a contribution). One firm, S106 Management of Exeter, set up in 2011 by property developer Robin Furby, reckons to save the developer as much as £1,000 per square metre.

The poor old public, though, doesn’t get to know how much developers ‘save’ by getting out of Section 106 agreements, because the viability reports are ‘commercially sensitive’ and therefore confidential.

Carmarthenshire’s planning committee had been hoping for an affordable housing contribution from Angela Beverley Williams’ and Huw Rhys Williams’ H R W Contracting Ltd of Betws, as part of planning permission for a six-bedroomed detached house at Hafod Road, Tycroes, but confidential calculations presented to planning officers persuaded the planning department to propose axing the contribution requirement because with it, the development would apparently not be commercially viable.

So there could be a six-bedroomed, four-bathroomed brick and tile house with double garage and workshop, presumably for occupants who are not that likely to be languishing on the council’s housing waiting list, and no contribution to making the list shorter. Could be, not definitely will be, because on February 8th Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning committee rejected the application, against the advice of planning officers. The developers can appeal the decision.

The viability assessments are not cheap, typically costing between £2,500 and £7,500, but developers expect to save far more than that.

When property developers seek to avoid paying a levy into the public purse, surely at the very least the calculations should be in the public domain and open to public scrutiny.

The Hafod Road planning application number is S/35645


Regulations Flouted? You Think Planning Authorities Must Act? WRONG!

It was news to me that planning authorities do not have to order rule-breakers to mend their ways. They can if they want to, but they do not have to.

Carmarthenshire County Council’s lawyers, Liverpool-based Weightmans, wrote in October 2016 that “the law of England and Wales does not allow an individual to recover compensation from a public body where the statutory duty or power involved did not itself confer a private law cause of action for a failure to exercise it.”

This information, in a letter to Trisha Breckman of Maesybont, told her in legal-speak that the county council’s reluctance to control industrial development on the farm next door did not entitle her to any compensation for noise/ harassment/ loss of amenity, because it was up to the council whether to allow or stop activities contrary to planning regulations.

The letter went on: “…there is the further point that the legislature had chosen not even to impose a duty but a discretion which is not justiciable in terms of the council’s decision to use the power or not.”

One implication of this ‘power not duty’ is lack of fairness. It’s easy to imagine a situation in which the planning authority forces a stop to unpermitted quarrying, say, next door to a Mr X, but allows similar activity next door to Mrs Y.

In this case, Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts, who live at Pantycastell Fach next to Blaenpant Farm, have spent 15 years fighting what was, in the judgement of many observers, unauthorised quarrying and haulage and the repercussions of that, and have suffered personal harassment and financial loss as a result. They bought their 6.5-acre smallholding in good faith in 2003, but have spent between £20,000 and £30,000 on legal fees and their health has deteriorated.

Trisha Breckman: a 15-year horror story 

Trisha was arrested six times on the say-so of Andrew Thomas and the late Karen Bowen Thomas of Blaenpant, and later received a full apology from Dyfed Powys Police, but no compensation.

Trisha and Eddie were also vindicated in 2012 by Peter Tyndal, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales at the time, who said the couple had suffered an injustice and that Carmarthenshire council was guilty of maladministration.

The criticism did not open the council’s wallet, however. The ‘power’ but not the obligation to stop unlawful activities is a get-out-of-jail card for public bodies which want to avoid paying any compensation, but it also means that the victims of the unlawful activities can suffer severe financial loss with no opportunity of any recompense. This may be legal but it is not ethical. Public organisations are hard-up, yes, but a compensation fund could be started, perhaps financed by an additional premium on public bodies’ insurance policies.

A timely award from a compensation fund would have helped Trisha and Eddie to move on from the trauma and reshape their lives.


To read previous posts on this topic, type ‘Breckman’ into the search box.

Housing Costs to Bankrupt the Population? Compulsory Purchase Regulations Widen Wealth Inequality

Small island, population approaching 70 million. Investors flock to put their money in land. Values soar way beyond the commercially reasonable, to the disadvantage of the economy overall, and here in West Wales, to our important rural economy.

Government does not want to upset the investors. In any case, there is a sizeable crossover between elected representatives and the moneyed class.

Meanwhile, the countryside fills with retired folk, whose demand for homes pushes up property prices beyond the reach of local people on minimal local wages. Surely we need energetic young people moving in with bright ideas for new businesses?  But land is so expensive that it is impossible to provide homes they can afford.

This year I have been carrying out a study for Calon Cymru Network, into the feasibility of a sustainable neighbourhood at Llandovery, in eastern Carmarthenshire. One of the recommendations is to make compulsory purchase cheaper by reducing the amount paid to landowners.

It was only because public authorities could buy land at agricultural value that the new towns – Stevenage, Crawley, Cwmbran, East Kilbride, Harlow, Basildon, Bracknell and many more — were built after the second world war. The new towns, and social housing estates on land also acquired at agricultural value, were important factors in the post-war economic recovery and in social advancement.

That all changed in the 1970s. Top judge Lord Denning ruled, in a landmark case in 1974, that a land vendor had the right to share in the development value of each site, not just to be paid agricultural value. That has led to protracted wranglings, delays, landowners holding out for the whole value uplift, and escalating the shortage of housing which does not pauperise its residents.

Landowners who benefit from the current get-what-you-can regime are unlikely to be enthusiastic about receiving less for their land when public bodies come calling, but change seems essential. Vendors of farmland, to be used for whatever purpose, do not have to pay Capital Gains Tax if they re-invest the proceeds in more land, and this (as well as farmland’s exemption from Inheritance Tax) reinforces their advantages over ordinary tax-paying mortals and speeds their accumulation of wealth. In less than 50 years, land has reverted to its post-Enclosure Acts status as a completely private possession.

Public-spirited philanthropists sometimes donate land for housing or other community uses. The BBC’s Countryfile programme mentioned one on November 12th, Vanora Hereward of Toller Porcorum in Dorset, who left land for affordable homes. But we can’t rely on philanthropists to solve the national housing problem.

No, we need a fairer distribution of the value gain from development, so that public and not-for-profit bodies receive half for the community, leaving half for the vendor. With farmland typically worth between £4,000 and £8,000 an acre in West Wales, and development land costing over one hundred times more, around £750,000 to £1 million per acre, landowners gain hugely from planning permission. Say that as farmland, two acres were worth £12,000. With planning permission, that same land could be £1.5 million to £1.75 million, a windfall of up to £1.49 million to £1.74 million which can be tax-free if reinvested.

If the value uplift were split, the public or community organisation would have a rebate of £745,000 to £870,000, and the vendor would receive the same amount, in addition to the agricultural value of the land. It would be cheaper to build homes, and the vendor would still make a tidy profit. The cost of building each home would fall by about £31,000 to £36,250, at a density of 12 to the acre.

The Welsh Government has probably missed a trick here. The original devolution settlement said nothing about compulsory purchase, so the Welsh Government could have launched its own regime. Now, the Wales Act 2017 says explicitly that compulsory purchase powers are the preserve of the UK Government in Westminster.

And the present government is most unlikely to upset landowners by cutting their potential for profits. The Budget on November 22nd is expected to contain announcements on housing – but if the Chancellor moves to cut the fiscal benefits of landowning, it will be a staggering surprise. Political parties don’t usually set out to alienate their big donors.

Read the report for Calon Cymru Network here. This post is in the author’s personal capacity, and is not connected in any way with Calon Cymru Network.



New build casts a long shadow

The right to light could do with some illumination.

Kidwelly accountant Tessa Finch used to live in 86 Station Road, but left when a new development of eco-friendly homes, in Llys y Foryd, shaded the ground floor of her home.


The Llys y Foryd development in Kidwelly looms over Tessa Finch’s house and back yard. Her bathroom is on the left 

The new houses, built by Morgan Construction of Ferryside, won a building excellence award in 2012, but the nearest one to 86 Station Road is very close indeed. New builds can be as close as one metre from a boundary, and the boundary of no.86 is only inches from the back of the house, which has a side yard instead of a back garden. The law in cases like this allows development which many of us would call ‘unneighbourly’.

Planning law does not recognise a right to a view, either, so if a new estate replaces an outlook over open country, it’s just hard luck.

The right to light is different, though. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors publishes ‘A Clear Impartial Guide to Right to Light’, which summarises the law. It says: “A right to light may be acquired by ‘anyone who has had uninterrupted use of something over someone else’s land for 20 years without consent, openly and without threat, and without interruption for more than a year.’”

So, says the guide, “If a new building limits the amount of light coming in through a window and the level of light inside falls below the accepted level, then this constitutes an obstruction. Unless you waive your rights you are entitled to take legal action against your neighbour.”

The 20-year rule is quite a barrier, but for those in residence for that long, it is a right worth understanding.


Tessa: her home lost light

Tessa moved out of the four-bedroomed house with the newly shaded ground floor, and is aiming to sell it. Estate agents John Francis are advertising it for £99,950, about two-thirds of the asking price of the three-bedroomed semi-detached houses in Llys y Foryd, the development which darkened her threshold.



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