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Smallholder in Towy Valley faces hat-trick of compulsory purchase orders

Smallholder Robert Moore, who is objecting to a compulsory purchase order, on land how owns by the River Towy (pic by Richard Youle)

A DISMAYED smallholder in the Towy Valley said his family is facing the loss of land for the third time – on this occasion for a new cycle path between Carmarthen and Llandeilo.

Robert Moore said a strip of land he owns close to the River Towy in White Mill, around four miles from Carmarthen, has been made the subject of a compulsory purchase order (CPO) by Carmarthenshire Council.

The council wants to link Carmarthen and Llandeilo with a 16-mile cycle path, running predominantly along a former railway track. It has built part of it, and has now submitted a planning application for a nine-mile stretch between Nantgaredig and Ffairfach, by Llandeilo.

This follows a £16.7 million Levelling Up Fund grant from the UK Government.

Compulsory purchase orders allow a local authority to acquire land without the consent of the owner, and follow negotiations between the two parties.

Mr Moore has sent an objection letter to planning and environment decisions Wales – formerly planning inspectorate Wales – and hopes there will be a public inquiry.

“My experiences have not been great,” he said of CPOs. “Our land has been taken twice before so that the community benefits while we suffer.”

The 64-year-old said land in White Mill owned by his uncle, with whom he lived following the death of his parents when he was young, was acquired in 1979 via CPO to facilitate a new section of the A40.

He said his uncle lost more land and his house in a CPO five years later to enable a new housing development, and during that period suffered a stroke.

Mr Moore recalled that his uncle was compensated £10,000 and £8,000 for the two CPOs, but claimed he was unable to build a replacement house near his old one because of an unexpected land registration problem.

The young Mr Moore went on to live in another uncle’s house nearby called Quarry Lodge, where lives to this day with his wife Linda and their two teenage children, Charlie and Maisie.

He has two parcels of land: 16 acres at Quarry Lodge, including a five-pitch campsite, and nine acres by the Towy. He grows hay and silage and keeps sheep and horses. His treasured possessions include a 1973 Massey Ferguson tractor and a battered 1998 VW Transporter with 300,000 miles on the clock which he gets around in.

Robert Moore driving his 1973 Massey Ferguson tractor with son Charlie, 19, and daughter Maisie, 14, on the trailer (pic submitted by Robert and Linda Moore)

Mr Moore said he has been offered £15,000 for the use of the strips of land for the Towy Valley Path, and that although he did not wish to sell he had entered negotiations with the council because he was worried about a potential loss of water supply, a shelter, and trees.

He has now been served notice of the CPO.

Mr Moore claimed the £15,000 offer hadn’t changed despite land values rising since it was put forward, but said the issue wasn’t about money.

“I feel enough is enough,” he said. “It’s the principle. The farm has been our family’s for generations. We’re not rich, and I’m not flush with a massive pension.

“But I’m quite happy. The land pays the bills. We’ve got enough the live on. But I want to left alone to make a living.”

Mr Moore also questioned the economic benefits put forward in support of the Towy Valley Path and said land on which it was planned was prone to flooding and erosion. He said: “It floods here around five times year, and it’s getting worse.”

And he was concerned that people using the path could get into difficulty if they went for a swim in the river. “I’ve saved someone who was struggling in it,” said Mr Moore. “He was swimming with his girlfriend. I was on the field and his girlfriend called me over. I got him out.”

A design and access statement submitted as part of the council’s planning application said nine options were initially considered for the path. That was whittled down to three and then one.

The development would require several land acquisitions, and field and river crossings. New bridges comprising timber and oak sleepers have been designed to blend in with the surroundings.

Land needed for the path is within the Towy Valley special landscape area and adjacent to and occasionally part of a special area of conservation. The river itself has a number of important environmental designations.

The design and access statement said most of the path would be built on existing ground levels, while a flood risk management plan indicated that significant sections of the would be affected by flooding and would require management.

It proposed the council should close a section between between Llanarthne and Fairfach ahead of a flood event, guided by automated river level sensors. This would happen four times a year, based on data going back three decades. The path would need to be inspected and repaired if necessary following a flood.

The flood management plan was followed up by a second one to reflect a relatively minor change in the path’s design. It reiterated its predecessor’s findings.

“The proposed path is not considered to remain operational and safe for users in times of flood; a flood management plan will be required to reduce the risk to users of the path down to acceptable levels,” it said.

But it added that the path’s flood risk impact on third party land around it was negligible.

Environment regulator Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said the path did not comply with flood risk planning guidance but that it would be impractical to raise its levels as that would have a knock-on effect on nearby land.

“Ultimately it is for the planning authority to consider the acceptability of the flooding consequences of this proposal,” said NRW.

The Plaid-Independent administration in Carmarthenshire wants to place the county firmly in the forefront of Wales, cycling-wise, and has been frustrated with a lack of Welsh Government funding for the Towy Valley Path.

The design and access statement submitted on its behalf estimated that the scheme would give a major boost to the local economy, including £2.4 million on day trips per year, and that 184 construction and other jobs would be created.

Laura Hubbart, the owner of Flows cake shop, Ffairfach, and Flows cafe-bar, Llandeilo, said she firmly backed the project.

“I think it’s great for tourism, especially on the hospitality front,” she said.

“I think Llandeilo would benefit greatly from it. I think the general consensus from businesses would be they’re absolutely for it.”

Responding to Mr Moore’s concerns, Cllr Edward Thomas, cabinet member for transport, waste and infrastructure services, said: “The council has now made and served notice of the compulsory purchase order on all those affected and the time for making representations whether in support or objection has now expired. We await copies of any representations made and we are unable to comment further on negotiations with individual landowners.

“The Twyi Valley shared-use route would provide a unique opportunity to provide communities within Carmarthenshire with a cost-effective and sustainable form of transport to access jobs, services and education.

“With this comes the real and tangible prospect of securing future well-being benefits. Securing these benefits relies on the compulsory purchase order being successful to deliver the funded scheme for wider public benefit.”

A couple from Ffairfach, part of whose land could be used for the path, have objected to the planning application. They cited flooding concerns, impact on wildlife, loss of privacy, and claimed the path would be “extremely visually intrusive” as it would be raised in that section.

They urged the council to reconsider the route “and help us arrive at a better solution for wildlife, the appearance of the valley and its historic landscape, and our ability to farm it peacefully as we currently do”.