THE leader of Carmarthenshire Council has launched a scathing attack on an unauthorised development on forestry land above a peat bog.
Cllr Emlyn Dole said he had dealt with “countless complaints” about the dumping of material at Grugos Wood, near Llannon, to widen an access track and create an area of hardstanding.
The track leads to a steel-framed building erected by applicant Carwyn Morgan for a Christmas tree-growing business he wanted to create.
The building was considered “permitted development”, but the access and hardstanding work should have had planning consent.
People in the area claimed the development had caused flooding on the adjacent B4306, damaged biodiversity and affected the underlying peat bog.
Cllr Dole, who represents Llannon, was unable to attend the planning committee meeting in which Mr Morgan’s latest application to remove some of the hardstanding, enhance drainage and improve the access onto the B4306 was discussed.
But his letter, which was read out, cited “a catalogue of disasters” which had been a “serious source of concern for the best part of three years and continues to be so”.
He disagreed with the planning officers’ report, which he said indicated that the building was considered unlikely to have a detrimental effect on the surroundings.
His letter said: “I would suggest that as the local member who has called two public meetings and dealt with countless complaints with regard to flooding, contamination and damage to the ecosystem and highways safety to name but a few, that that is an opinion by the planning officer and is an opinion as preposterous as it is absurd.
“The dumping of hundreds of tonnes of waste, which is referred to as hardcore material, on a nine-metre deep peat bog in an area of scientific interest and the open countryside has caused irreparable damage and extensive dangers for the safety of local road users for these past three years.”
Mr Morgan’s planning application was the third he had submitted to the council after his first two retrospective ones were refused.
It included a proposal to create a pond to store surface water. There were 61 objections, but none from environment body Natural Resources Wales (NRW).
Planning officers said in a report that they had carefully considered the application and recommended it for approval as it had sought to address previous reasons for refusal.
Head of planning Llinos Quelch told the committee that the recommendation was not the opinion of one officer, but the result of discussions between several professional colleagues – with input from expert organisations like NRW.
“There is a lot of information that sits behind an officer report,” she said.
Cllr Dole’s letter also referred to enforcement action instigated by the council in 2017, which the council said had been complied with.
A planning officer told councillors that flooding on the B4306 had mainly been due to collapsed road gulleys, which had now been reinforced.
Objector Beverley Hinds said the first residents knew of the work was when a bulldozer arrived in July 2016 and flattened a section of hedgerow containing dormice boxes funded by Carmarthenshire Council.
“Sixty-tonne lorries dumped landfill of unknown source for months on end,” she said.
Planning agent Stuart Owen, on behalf of Mr Morgan, said his client had made a mistake when he widened the access track and created the hardstanding area, but that “clean hardcore” was used to do this.
Mr Owen said the land was too wet for Christmas trees and that Mr Morgan now wanted to grow willow trees as an energy source for a joinery he had bought in Llanelli, saving 29 jobs in the process.
“Today is about rectifying the existing situation,” said Mr Owen.
“If members refuse these proposals, where do we go from here? What do we do?”
Some councillors raised concerns about the area of peat bog under the hardstanding and track.
Cllr Kevin Madge described the situation as “a mess”.
Cllr Joseph Davies, though, said he felt the planning report had answered nearly all the key questions.
After further debate the application was approved before committee chairman, Cllr Alun Lenny, expressed his dissatisfaction about the circumstances.
Speaking after the vote, Cllr Lenny said it was all very well for “an applicant to put up their hands after being brought to book”.
He added: “I expect the applicant – and I am looking at the agent – will keep to the conditions imposed and that at least the situation can be alleviated.”
Speaking after the meeting, a spokesman for NRW said it had investigated complaints about the tipping of material at the site.
He said the tipping was covered by an “exempt waste operation notification” and that the waste deposited was inert, meaning non-hazardous or biodegradable.
“NRW advised the landowner that once enough material had been deposited to complete the proposed work, no further material should be deposited,” he said.
“The landowner complied with this advice, at which time the exempt waste operation was removed from the public register.”