|Our punishment - new outlook from our windows|
Preparations for the enormous shed were an added continuing disturbance to any peace for us. The bank opposite our small cottage had more than doubled in height from it's original gentle slope. Surely the neighbours shed wasn't going to be erected at this newly created height. It would dwarf our cottage if this were to be the case.
By now I had written several letters to Eifion Bowen Head of Planning and Brian Canning Enforcement Manager. My M.P. had also written further letters. There had been site visits and a report issued by Eifion Bowen saying..............'there was no substance to the allegations'..........'no breach of planning control'.....'lorries were only intermittently parked at Blaenpant'....'maintenance was only occasional'.....'no evidence to pursue enforcement' ......'no evidence of quarrying'.....and so on. With regard to the removal of the large blue lorry parked alongside our cottage - Eifion Bowen said ............'it is a temporary structure used in conjunction with agriculture and is used for storage of hay, therefore no breach of planning identified'.
Vehicle and Operators Services (VOSA) the agency who are responsible for operators licences and who ensure hauliers are abiding by the regulations had monitored the neighbouring property - unlike Carmarthen Council's Enforcement Department, and had evidenced for themselves that there were indeed several lorries being operated from this address without licence. They issued official reports stating this fact and included in their statements that they were 'abused, intimidated and threatened, and had to leave the premises as they were in fear of their safety', when carrying out their site visit. This further evidence was sent to Carmarthen Council.
Carmarthen Council had been informed of this haulage business since 2001 by several local people including two former owners of our property - and now us. It was now conspicuously evident that someone or some ones, within Carmarthen council were allowing these people to continue without planning permissions and change of use.
A meeting was arranged with Mr. Canning and our representative from Country landowners, to discuss our ongoing problems in the hope he would finally accept the truth and get the council to take responsibility for the situation they had placed us in.
Meeting with Brian Canning.........There was only one defining aspect of this meeting with Mr. Canning (Enforcement Manager) which was Mr. Canning's inability to address any of the points made to him with any honesty, blustering the entire way through the meeting. He had mastered the technique of avoiding answering direct questions which had clearly been practised over many years as he was so adept in them.
Having had clear evidence presented to him from a reputable person that this haulage business (the subject of the meeting) was definitely not operating from it's official centre, taken together with years of evidence from many other sources that they were in fact operating from Blaenpant.....his response was this..........."what we have done, and Keith James who knows quarrying like the back of his hand, and he knows the heavy goods vehicle trade, he worked for Celtic Energy for twenty five years, and he knows what he is talking about when it comes to these things. Now clearly, and I'm not quite sure what's being suggested here. Now we've set out in that letter as well we know and like anybody who knows and understands the lorry taxi operator and you own a taxi licence as I understand...". bumbling on and on.
Another example of how to deny an undeniable unauthorised haulage business was for Brian Canning to say this.........."obviously they can't have four five six or seven lorries parking there on a regular basis...... the fact that the lorry drivers turned up because it's her birthday or something is um.... its got to be a regular occurrence". At this juncture Eddie pointed out that he'd just been shown photographs of large numbers of lorries parked every day over a period of months and had possession of video evidence showing lorries leaving in the mornings on a daily basis, plus evidence from two VOSA officers confirming several lorries were operating from the site. Brian Canning's response was....."I know, I'm talking about in the future".
This meeting proved beyond doubt that Carmarthen Council were going to allow the neighbours businesses to continue, unchallenged, irrespective of any evidence we put forward. Mr. Canning suggested we keep a log of numbers of HGVs over a period of months saying 'if you can show HGVs parked at Blaenpant on a regular basis the council would take a look at it'. He already had been shown and advised of an abundance of evidence. To suggest another log at this stage was insulting.
|More old tyres for burning|
It was clear the scene had been set. KBHS had the wink and nod from the council to continue with their unauthorised business and all the other noisy activities that went with it. Carmarthen Council's planning department had firmly decided to turn a blind eye, which meant our quality of life had been reduced to living with permanent industrial noise, not being able to enjoy the pretty home we had bought, and the plans we had, were no longer. We didn't want to be living adjacent to a noisy industrial site, one that was going to get bigger and in all probability even noisier.
I wrote to the Mark James the Chief Executive explaining our difficulties asking him to look into why these two officers were blindly refusing to accept the truth, as the operations next door were undeniable and making our lives a perfect misery. My letters to Mark James produced no comfort, only more distress as he blindly agreed with these two officers there was no evidence on which to take action.
The industrial nature of the neighbours business was growing - the quarrying was ongoing - the maintenance on lorries was common place - the workshop was being used both Saturdays and Sundays for welding - power hosing added to it all. This was our life now, living adjacent to a noisy industrial site which the council knew about and were totally ignoring.
|Shed being erected on artificially raised levels, higher than our chimney|
|More fires at night|
Knowing the neighbouring property was in a SSSI/SAC zone, (Special Area of conservation and Site of Scientific Interest) where special permissions have to be sought for any kind of development, was to cause more distress. Every tree over one entire area was uprooted using a JCB and the small area of woodland running alongside our fields where Badgers were living, wasn't spared either as trees were pushed over to make way for containers, lorries and industrial equipment.
When purchasing this smallholding the landscape was important to us and played a huge part in helping us decide we wanted to be here, therefore it was exceedingly upsetting to witness aggressive and unnecessary destruction of an area of beauty. The lack of concern from the council made it clear that our neighbours were immune from any controls, and their activities were going to continue.
Friends visiting were shocked at how we were being treated by our local authority and one friend in particular had contacted the media in the hope that exposure of our impossible situation would lead the council to accept their responsibilities and help restore normality back into our lives.
|The agricultural storage shed for tractor amd implements|
A local person who was aware of our plight who had previously been a councillor, had also written to the Minister (Jane Davidson) as she too believed the council's attitude towards us was appalling. The outcome of that letter was at least a little positive in that her department actually asked for evidence of what we perceived to be the failings of Planning and Enforcement and decided to keep a file on our case. The file was labelled 'a special case' and over the following two years I was to send to Jane Davidson's department much evidence of dishonest conduct from these departments.
Another blow to our plans - due to the much narrowed width of our right of way - Health and Safety had advised us that we could not go ahead with the cattery as we could not now comply with fire regulations, even though we had planning permission.
As the torment escalated we believed it could only be due to the support we had from others who were writing to the council on our behalf. The right of way was now being used as a means of exploiting our vulnerability. Ponies were now being taken out of the field and left to wander in our right of way. In order to go out we now had to ask the neighbours if they would move them. Vehicles would be parked across the top gate and left there, which meant we couldn't go out. It was an impossible situation. We felt trapped in a property that was no longer a pleasure to be living in - next to a growing industrial unit - being regularly tormented. If the police weren't going to help us perhaps the council's own anti social behaviour department would, especially as they knew the neighbours had a history of threatening two other families before us.
The meeting with the council's anti social behaviour co-ordinator went well, she was very sympathetic and advised us that she would arrange a multi agency meeting. I needed her to understand that our argument was not with my neighbours. Carmarthen Council had created an untenable situation for us, and it was their responsibility to ensure we didn't have to live with the intimidation from the Thomases that was of their making.
|Karen Thomas being a nuisance whilst Eddie was leaving for work.|
A multi agency meeting had been held but disappointingly we weren't invited. A letter duly arrived advising us that there was no evidence of antisocial behaviour, therefore no help was available to us. I was to discover at a later date that the two officers who had met together and decided our fate were Eifion Bowen Head of Planning and Inspector Edwards. Mr. Bowen officially ruled out anti social behaviour saying that the behaviour was more to do with planning matters, and Inspector Edwards (the same police officer who had denied the Thomases had followed Eddie to work against evidence they had) ruled that our complaints were 'petty, trivial and frivolous'.
We were to receive no help from the Council and no help from the local police either. Another green light to two people who had already shown aggressive and threatening behaviour to several people before we came to live here. We needed help. We were feeling very much under threat - and not just from the neighbours.
ITV had made contact with us and like everybody, other than the council and the local police, were shocked at the lack of concern for our impossible situation. They wanted to cover our story and I truly believed this would convince the council that they were in the wrong and that they would put an end to our nightmare.
Things don't improve....................