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North Pembrokeshire organic food producer’s expansion plans approved

Mynydd Carningli (Pic: Richard Webb, Creative Commons. Inset: St Brynach (Pic: Wolfgang Sauber, Creative Commons)

PLANS for a north Pembrokeshire organic food producer to expand its business have been backed despite a recommendation to refuse due fears about the impact it would have on an ancient monument.

Cilgerran-based Southern Roots Organics, through agent Llyr Evans Planning Ltd, sought permission for three polytunnels for agricultural use at land near Penrallt, Felindre Farchog.

The application would increase the number on site from an existing five to support the growing business, but the January 31 meeting of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park’s development management committee was recommended to refuse.

The main reason was due to the visual impact when viewed from the Scheduled Ancient Monument of Carningli, some three kilometres away.

Carningli, which features the remains of one of the largest hillforts in west Wales, is also associated with the Celtic saint Brynach, said to have talked with animals and birds.

Three letters raised concerns about the proposal, raising concerns on the existing impact on views from Carningli, while 12 letters of support were received, praising the quality of the operation in growing local and sustainable food.

Speaking at the meeting, Adam Payne of Southern Roots Organics said a significant investment had been made in the business, which currently employs three people and hoped to employ three more if permission was granted.

“The business is heading in the right direction, but we’re not there yet,” he told planners.

Members heard Southern Roots Organics supplies around 20 well-known restaurants, cafes, farm shops, caterers and a local organic wholesaler, and more recently started supplying a national wholesaler, and has “developed a reputation for reliable high-quality fresh produce,” with demand continuing to rise.

Polytunnel space has become a limiting factor in the businesses’ development, Mr Payne said, adding: “If we are unable to put up polytunnels our business would be in jeopardy, there’s a significant investment which would be stifled if we were unable to expand.

“We try to do something good for our area and believe we are doing it no harm.”

He argued the actual impact from the polytunnels would be low, smaller than most agricultural buildings, adding: “Just because it’s visible doesn’t mean it’s a harm.”

Councillor Rhys Jordan stressed that “policy is there for a good reason,” but added: “I’m struggling with affecting someone’s growing business, I am struggling to support officers’ decision on this one.

“How many complaints would come in from someone from that viewpoint? Are we really spoiling the vista from that viewpoint?”

Moving approval, against officer recommendation, Dr Rosetta Plummer said: “Clearly there is an amplification of scale but when it comes to a judgement of balance there’s a need to provide a livelihood and get organic foods; a tough balance but I will be objecting to the officers’ recommendation, moving for approval, and I’m happy to do that.”

The call to go against officer recommendations was approved by 14 votes to one, with one abstention.

As the decision against officer recommendation was an interpretation of policy, rather than strictly against policy, no ‘cooling-off’ period, meaning the application would have to be revisited, was invoked.

The application was conditionally approved.

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