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20-year wrangle over road and rights of way at former opencast site could finally be resolved

TAXPAYERS’ money could be used to help reinstate public access at a privately-owned opencast site in Carmarthenshire.

The issue at the former Gilfach Iago site, between Ammanford and Cross Hands, has been rumbling on for 20 years.

Carmarthenshire Council’s cabinet has now agreed what it believes is a way forward for a £450,000 scheme to reinstate rights of way there, £320,00 of which would be funded by Celtic Energy Ltd. The other £130,000 would come from the authority’s reserves.

Celtic Energy is hopeful a solution is in sight, but full council will have the final say.

A cabinet report explained that Gilfach Iago was transferred from public ownership to Celtic Energy in 1994.

The 134-hectare coal site was operational between 1988 and 1998, and Celtic Energy did largely restore its physical profile to that which existed before the site was excavated.

But prior to excavation, the land was crossed by several roads and public footpaths.

All but one of these roads and paths were meant to be reinstated by Celtic Energy, said the report, but the work didn’t take place.

The company then split the land up into 17 lots, sold 16 of them, and kept one in the centre of the site.

This fragmentation has been a key factor in the delays.

The report said: “Despite the expenditure of substantial effort, time and resources, reinstatement is still outstanding 20 years on.”

At one point in 2007 the council issued Celtic Energy with a breach of planning condition notice, which required it to restore the roads and rights of way.

The report said Celtic Energy didn’t comply – claiming it was no longer liable as it wasn’t the landowner.

Before the matter went to court, the Caerphilly-based company accepted liability but submitted that the previous roads were no longer necessary, and that it proposed to provide bridleways and footpaths in their place.

But that plan was snookered by an objection from Llandybie Community Council, whose consent was required.

The community council’s objection was later withdrawn, though, and work to provide the bridleways and footpaths was set to get under way in 2019. But there were more problems, and the planning permission eventually lapsed.

The cabinet report discussed on November 22 set out five options to resolve the issue, with cabinet approving the preferred one.

It would mean the council applying in court to downgrade the former road routes to bridleways.

The council would then install the bridleways and also reinstate the public footpaths at a cost of £450,000, with Celtic Energy funding most of the work.

The report said: “The proposed solution is a defendable management decision that will deliver beneficial outcomes for the community, and the council will obtain a substantial contribution to the costs of delivering access reinstatement.”

Cllr Hazel Evans told cabinet colleagues that Llandybie Community Council was supportive of this option. She added that the existing paths at Gilfach Iago were “dead ends”.

Both she and Cllr Mair Stephens said the previous roads were “no longer needed”.

In a statement, Celtic Energy said: “We are pleased that after many years of frustration and debate it looks likely that a satisfactory solution to this difficult problem is finally within sight.”

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