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Nov.25th 2003: We arrived at Matavenero on 24th Oct and two days later received a summons to appear at Haverfordwest Magistrates Court (which feels a very long way away from here, where I write this):
The case was postponed from November, so we will go back to be criminalised and receive sentence (no point pleading not guilty!) asking the magistrates to take into account the point that we have done no damage by leaving our house standing - rather, we have furthered the cause for a more enlightened view of humans' need for shelter, and have provided a living, working example of low-impact development which continues to be of use in the current debate, and still is of much public interest (on Country File, BBC1 23rd Nov - maybe more detail on BBC Online). I will attempt to show as evidence to the magistrates a copy of the many comments we have received on our guestbook on the home page on this site, so if you would like to add your comments this is one way you could be of help. Thanks to those who have written such encouraging messages. The case will come up on Jan 26th at 9.45 am. in Haverfordwest Magistrates Court.
As an interesting coincidence, on the very next day, Jan 27th, commences the public inquiry into the Joint Unitary Development Plan for Pembrokeshire and the Pembs Coast National Park. We are among the 23 people who have submitted representations to this inquiry to urge policy no.50, which is on Low Impact Development, to be also applicable within the National Park.
Our situation As at Oct 11th 2003 is that the roundhouse is still standing, with a fine crop of grapes on the eaves. We attended a meeting last week of the South West Regional Committee of the Welsh Assembly in St. Davids. The agenda was to consider thoughts from the Assembly's Planning Committee and the general public on Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities. Mr Nick Wheeler, chief executive of the Pembs Coast National Park, in reponse to questions from the floor on Park policies on Low Impact Development said "we tried it once, and were turned down, but we'll try again", provoking mirth in the audience. (The Park has consistently opposed any low impact developments, and continues to do so, viz their latest attempt at a get out clause in Policy 50 of the new draft Unitary Devlopment Plan.) Those of us attempting to live a low impact lifestyle were, however, listened to and well received, and our local Assembly member, Tamsin Dunwoody-Kneavesy, came for lunch and a tour round this week. The Park may of course still prosecute us, but the Welsh assembly is at last looking favourably on developments like ours. (If you happen to be a member of the Welsh Assembly reading this, and feel that a change in planning laws regarding low impact developments is necessary and likely to happen, I would appreciate it if you would communicate your views to the clerk of the magistrates' court in Haverfordwest, so when our case comes up the magistrates know that the law is on its last legs.) If you have not read all this site you may not know how difficult it is to get permission to build a home in the countryside, even/especially if you are a worker on a community farm aiming at sustainability. Plenty more info. in Links .
Our personal news is that Jane and I will be leaving the Roundhouse and cats in good hands as we take a sabbatical in Matavenero, an ecovillage in the Montes de Leon in Northern Spain, to see what it feels like to have freedom to experiment with methods of living sustainably in a collective without the authorities breathing down your neck all the time. We've been offered a lovely wooden ecohome to live in:
and are looking forward to it.
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority planning committee decided at their April 2003 meeting to prosecute me for non compliance with the enforcement order requiring me to demolish the roundhouse by mid-March.
Since then things have been very quiet. Maybe the authority is having second thoughts about spending public money prosecuting a crime with no victim and no damage.
Anyway, the history of our struggle to remain here is in these pages, if you are interested.
Here is a report in The Economist (week of April 8th 2003):
Officialdom finds environmentally minded country-dwellers an untidy nuisance
A VAST metal farm building glints in the watery spring sun, looking industrial and intrusive in the protected national park landscape. "You can see that from miles around," says Tony Wrench scornfully. His own home is barely visible, being built out of wood, mud and turf with solar-generated electricity and a compost lavatory. Mr Wrench speaks proudly of its "negligible" environmental impact. Yet it is his building, not the neighbouring agribusiness monstrosity, that the local planners want demolished.
Mr Wrench and his good-lifer chums follow a demanding organic farming doctrine called permaculture, which says that land use should mimic natural ecosystems. Waste and by-products from one activity are used to sustain another. Much the same applies to housing: you build with whatever is available locally, using solar panels or a windmill for electricity.
This sort of eco-heaven is increasingly fashionable. PERMACULTURE, a newsletter for just 600 enthusiasts ten years ago, is now a magazine selling 15,000 copies a quarter. Chapter 7, an organisation which advises people how to build low-impact homes like Mr Wrench's, says it helps 600-800 people a year. Lucy Nichol, a planning lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, reckons there are hundreds already living this way, half of them in secret because such homes are illegal under planning laws drafted in the 1950s to stop the countryside being overrun by urbanites wanting a country bungalow. The law, though it is much flouted by the rich or well-connected, says that new houses outside existing settlements must be needed because a worker has to live on the land, say, to look after sheep. The work must also generate enough income, generally GBP10,000-15,000 a year, to pay a notional rent.
Most permaculturalists and low-impact dwellers do not qualify. They eke out a living from vegetable-growing, craft-making and tending a few animals. A further disadvantage in the authorities' eyes is that permaculture is usually immensely untidy. Low-impact homes, however high-mindedly constructed, often look like messy hovels surrounded by junk that may or may not be recycled one day.
Planners' tidy-mindedness goes against the lip-service paid by officialdom to green living habits. The Pembrokeshire coast national park authority says it "works with local communities towards a sustainable future." The Welsh Assembly wants "sustainable development" to be the hallmark of the new Wales. The government is thinking of changing the law to allow such low-impact developments. A report published on March 31st by the Countryside Council for Wales argued that they would help reverse rural decline.
But this looks to be too late for Mr Wrench. He hoped nobody would notice his house but it was spotted by planners during an aerial survey (its solar panels were glinting). The local authority has won two appeals and says it will now "take appropriate enforcement action".
See this article with graphics and related items here.
Click here for more global news, views and analysis from the Economist Group.
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Welsh Assembly member Cynog Dafis has been strongly supportive. The press have also taken up on this. One broadsheet had this quote from Stuart Bond, consultant with the WWF, using the Ecological Footprint model he developed
that compares what nature supplies with human demand for resources:
"Like money, we can spend more than we can earn, though not without a final reckoning. Our current global ecological overdraft is 33% in the red, i.e. we use 1.3 planets worth of resources. However, Tony is living an exemplary low impact lifestyle, and we need to learn from his efforts, not destroy them. In the UK, we would need the resources of three planets to sustain the way we live and consume. In the States, they would need nearly five planets worth. BedZed, the acclaimed eco-development in south London aims to facilitate a two planet lifestyle. Tony has built his Round House as an experiment to see if he can live using just his share of the resources from the one planet we actually have, and he’s managed it. He is a pioneer, one of the only people in the whole country who can prove that he is living within the Earth’s true means."
We have, on the 14th March, been sent a copy of the CCW report. It is very full, detailed and fair. This project and this house figure fairly prominently in it, and it is not difficult to see why the powers that be wished to see it delayed. The report has only been issued in electronic form, but I or Chapter 7 (see Links) could email it to you if you have the patience (it is approx 2.5MB).
If the worst happens and we have to demolish the roundhouse, we will seek another place aiming at sustainability and self-build. For the month of Febrary 2003 Jane and I visited the ecovillage Matavenero in the Montes de Leon in N. Spain. If you are interested in knowing about this place click here.
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