Friday 6 March 2020

Too Big to Care - Taylor Wimpey asks for planning permission for a very dodgy wall,

We often hear the phrase "too big to fail", usually applied to banks and others whose financial organisations who get automatic bail outs from Central Governments.

But there are other huge companies who, sometimes like banks, may manage huge finances including large debts, who are also too big. They get automatic bailouts at a lower level of local and regional government, and their size and power allow them to brake rules and laws with impunity, and act totally selfishly.

Last month [21/02/2020] I called a community meeting in the Stradey and Sandy Area of my Council Ward. The main issue discussed was a local Housing Estate, recently completed, called  Parc Y Strade. As the name suggests, it was built on the site of the old Stradey Park Stadium in Llanelli. At the beginning of this century the rugby club was in major financial difficulties and had accumulated major debt. One of the club's directors had given it a multi million pound loan and he wanted his money back. Together with the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire Council..Mark James. a plan was apparently hatched to build a new Stadium "out of Town" and sell the old site, practise pitches and adjacent plots of land suddenly acquired, perhaps by those "in the know," for development of a huge residential estate.355 homes have now been built there.

Parc Y  Strade  first phase Photo Sian Caiach

 The original land occupied by the Rugby Club, had been gifted to the People of Llanelli for recreational purposes by the Stradey Estate  The Scarlets plc went to court without informing the original donors, the Stradey Estate, and quite legally established ownership of the land through occupation. Of course this was simply in order to sell it on for profit very soon after.

Problem One was that the land was on an undefended C2 flood plain. According to the Assembly's official policy document, Planning Policy Wales, C2 land is too dangerous for building homes on. Only vital utilities, such as sewage pumping stations should be built on it.  On these grounds, the Assembly "called in" the planning permission and halted the process. Our Assembly Government has frequently been weak and this was no exception. Threatened by multi-million pound lawsuits from the developers Taylor Wimpey, Minster Jane Davidson threw in the towel with the support of local Assembly member Helen Mary Jones.

 Helen told a Llanelli Plaid Cymru meeting that the Assembly could be seriously financially damaged by the legal action and was more important to maintain the new devolved administration than a local issue. The reaction was a stunned silence, as I recall.

 It it did not bode well for "Planning Policy Wales" the book of instructions from the Assembly to Local Authorities, when a wealthy bully could dictate to the Assembly where they could build irrespective of community safety.

the southern boundary of Parc y Strade estate held up by a curtain pile wall - photo Sian Caiach  
To protect the new homes Taylor Wimpey was advised to raise the lowest areas of the site to 7 metres above sea level . This would raise the new homes out of the flood plain but also run the risk of flooding in the surrounding areas. The pile wall did not go well, the piles shattered the foul sewer main which ran in the lane below,

The wall was placed not on Taylor Wimpey's land but around 2 foot  over the boundary in Stradey Estate land, a lane through which the residents of  Sandy Road had legal access to their garages and back gardens. Narrowing the lane has caused access problems and in the retrospective planning permission now underway, Taylor Wimpey's agent  claims that the additional land was "acquired" from the Stradey Estate,There is no evidence that they have.

Patrick Mansel Lewis, the land owner, regards the placing of the wall on his land as theft, Taylor Wimpey declines to  answer his correspondence on the matter.

The pile wall already leaks and residents of the lane have impressive film on their phones showing water leaking through some of the piles' vertical joins as well as coming up underneath them, When Welsh Water dug up the lane to repair the sewer, 2 of the piles shifted and had to be re positioned to stand vertically after all the earth behind then had been removed. There appears to be no formal drainage behind the piles. Taylor Wimpey admits, in the planning documents, that they chose thin piles in order to maximise the land of surrounding their properties.

 By siting the piles on someone else's land Taylor Wimpey may have cleverly moved the piles and possibly liability of maintenance on to the owners of the appropriated/stolen land. I believe  the Stradey Estate has far less money than our National Assembly who capitulated to Taylor Wimpey's threats  before the estate was built. The local Planning Committee who now all know that the land is not Taylor Wimpey's are in a bind. 

The policy of the Council is to build as many homes as possible in Carmarthenshire to attract as many people as possible to move to the County and increase the council tax take.This has been supported by all major party groups including the current Plaid leadership. They normally bend over backwards to accommodate the big building companies. I hope for once, they will not allow this particular retrospective application. 

In the meantime the residents of Sandy Road have a rusting, leaking wall behind their homes which has already, during construction, left some of them without sewerage services for weeks. Some can no longer get their vehicles easily into their garages and parking spaces. The bin lorries now struggle to  reverse down the narrowed,long lane to pick up bin bags, and some are left  behind squashed. If the piles fail and collapse residents of the lane will lose access and amenity.

Although it is technically legal to ask for planning permission on land you do not own, I doubt it is actually legal to build on land you do not own with the objection of the real owner. Add the jeopardy of building a wall holding back tons of soil  and showing signs of leaking already. The residents are fearful of what may happen despite the claims of Taylor Wimpey that the wall will last 100 years.

 Siân Caiach

Having corresponded with Councillor Alun Lenny, Plaid Cymru, and Chair of the County Planning  Committee, he has asked me the following question:

Cllr. Alun Lenny

Sun, Mar 15, 9:33 PM (22 hours ago)
to me

Hello Sian
As this is obviously an inquiry about a legal issue, would you be happy for me to forward your e-mail to the lawyer who usually advises the planning committee at the council’s legal department?

Best wishes,

I have replied that I am happy for him to take legal advice. I have asked for information as to the identity of the Lawyer concerned but have had no reply.

An objection by the land owner Patrick Mansel Lewis, on whose land the pile wall was placed without permission, is available on line as a submission to the planning department among the papers for the retrospective planning permission. As well as the issues discussed above it is claimed that some of the pile sheets are no longer perfectly vertical. 
Mr Mansel Lewis asks for the planning permission to be rejected and the wall to be removed from his land by Taylor Wimpey.