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Farmer told to restore ditch by Monmouthshire Council

The field on the right is the one purchased by farmer Ian Lewis who has now been told dig a ditch along the road side he'd previously filled (Pic: PEDW)

A FARMER must dig a ditch he previously filled after his tractor got stuck in it as he’s fallen foul of planning regulations. 

Fourth generation farmer Ian Lewis had filled the ditch running alongside a country lane around half a mile west of Llanbadoc, near Usk, as he was concerned it was a health and safety hazard. 

He had bought the field, which is on the opposite side of the lane to a house named Rose Cottage, some five years ago from a church when it was covered in bracken and brambles. 

After he cleared it he discovered the collapsed land drain when his tractor was “very nearly tipped over”. 

But when Monmouthshire County Council were informed the ditch had been filled it slapped Mr Lewis with a planning enforcement notice in October 2022 – claiming the now grassed over ditch posed a flood risk to the lane, which is above the bottom of the field that rises from the roadway. 

The council demanded Mr Lewis restore the ditch so the land beside the road is returned to the level it was at before he carried out the work. 

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Mr Lewis tried to appeal the notice, arguing planning permission should be granted for the work he’d carried out. 

In his appeal statement Mr Lewis said: “Whilst clearing bracken and brambles after the purchase, I very nearly tipped my tractor over due to a collapsed land drain. This resulted in having to ask a contractor to come with a winch to pull the tractor out safely. Obviously, this was a huge health and safety concern for us.” 

Mr Lewis said he had filled the ditch to connect the collapsed land drain to the main drain and when he was contacted by the council’s highways department he assured them he had the correct licence and there was suggestion planning permission was required, which he said had he been aware of he would have applied for before starting any work. 

He also explained he’d taken precautions to avoid increasing the flooding risk including keeping the field at a lower level than the lane and he’d installed a 225mm twin wall plastic pipe in the bottom of the ditch which carries surface water from the road gully and land drains connected to it. 

Mr Lewis said environment body Natural Resources Wales was also satisfied with the work he’d carried out and said in his appeal: “I believe that the works I have carried out are correct and of benefit to everybody, not just me as the landowner.” 

But planning inspector Anthony Thickett said though when he visited the site on December 7 last year, when it was “raining heavily” and none of the water, that was “puddling” at the end of the field, had run onto the road his visit was “one point in time”. He noted the “council’s senior engineer’s report that filling in the ditch has led to several impacts on flood risk”. 

Though he said the council doesn’t dispute Mr Lewis had installed the plastic pipe Mr Thickett said due to the absence of an assessment “by a specialist chartered hydrogeologist detailing the impacts on, amongst other things, ground water levels” it wasn’t possible for him to conclude the work hasn’t increased the flood risk. 

He also said without expert advice he couldn’t be sure Mr Lewis’ offer to install a soak away at the entrance to the field would be effective. 

Mr Thickett said the council’s other reasons for refusing planning permission could have been overcome through tree planting, to offset any harm from the visual impact of the removal of existing trees, and biodiversity enhancement to make up for the loss of the trees and shrubs.

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