COUNCILLORS have refused to allow horses to be kept on a former council farm where an investigation into alleged planning permission breaches is already taking place.
Applicant Alan Connolly had asked for change of use planning permission to be granted retrospectively to allow him to keep five horses on land north-west of Holly Lodge Road, from the A48 to Dewstow Road, at Fives Lanes in Caerwent.
He also wanted permission to build a stable block, a storage building and a manege riding arena at the land which currently has permission for agricultural use.
The application was before Monmouthshire County Council’s planning committee as there had been more than five objections and a member of the Caerwent Community Council and a local resident also addressed the committee urging it to refuse the application.
At the Tuesday, October 3 meeting, at County Hall in Usk, Dewstow councillor Tony Easson said the committee was “uncomfortable” with the information provided and said: “It’s obvious from the community council and the community members they don’t trust this guy.”
The Labour councillor highlighted the active enforcement notice related to other temporary buildings and hardstanding on the land – and also raised concerns that a camera has been placed alongside a footpath through the site. A separate application, to another council committee, will have to be made to divert the footpath as proposed by Mr Connolly.
The council’s head of planning, Craig O’Connor said the committee could only consider the application before it but confirmed the council has started action over potential planning breaches. If the committee intended refusing the application he said it would need to consider its planning policies and whether equestrian use was unacceptable in the open countryside.
Mr O’Connor said: “I fully appreciate the site has got a complicated planning history and there is a live enforcement notice on the site.”
Referring to comments made by Mr Connolly’s agent Cllr Easson also told the meeting: “The agent has said the applicant will abide by all the conditions but he hasn’t abided by any of them, how can we trust it will be done in the future?”
He said the application should go back to officers, as he felt it was “premature” with too many unresolved issues, and said it may be the committee could approve it at a later date. A number of other councillors also suggested the application should be deferred.
Cllr Easson was reminded that a previous application in July 2022 had been rejected so there were no conditions attached and the committee was also told the reason for refusal was a failure to provide detailed drawings with the application, a decision upheld on appeal.
Mike John, of Caerwent Community Council, who addressed the meeting as a public speaker said the application was “the sort of mess that gives planning a bad press”.
He said Monmouthshire council had failed to address planning breaches at the site and concerns of residents and said: “The community have been asking us since 2019, what is going on up there? Cutting down hedges, a cesspit, why are there cameras and dogs on a public footpath?”
Chris Gosling, agent for Mr Connolly, said the committee would have seen “most of the surrounding land” is already in equestrian use when they visited the site and said: “my client is fully prepared to abide by the conditions.”
He also said Mr Connolly is “fully aware of the requirement to reroute the footpath that will obviously happen before any work starts in that area.”
Planning officer Adam Foote said an ecological report hadn’t been shared publicly with other documents, in the usual way, due to it containing “sensitive information” but it had been approved by the council’s ecology and landscape officers.
Labour councillor for Cantref, Sara Burch, said the committee should approve the application.
She said: “I share the discomfort and wish the applicant had a greater sense of duty in regards to the public footpath and wish he hadn’t done work on site that makes it appear there are aspirations to live there but I don’t think anything in this application justifies us in refusing it.”
Five members of the committee voted to approve the application but it was refused as six councillors voted to reject it, while two abstained.
Councillors were again asked what issues they wanted further information on and it was eventually agreed more detail was required on drainage and the management of manure and other waste.
Mr O’Connor said officers will hold discussions with the applicant and bring the application back before the committee with further information to look to make a “positive determination” and if they couldn’t they would be formed as reasons for refusal.
But the chief planner said he would have concerns if the application was taken to appeal.
Caerwent Conservative councillor Phil Murphy, who is the chair of the planning committee, took no part in the discussion as he declared a “prejudicial interest” as he said posters, “purported to come from me” had been circulated in relation to the planning appeal related to the site. Cllr Murphy said he hadn’t produced the posters but wanted to place that on record.