Story Part 4 - 2004

This page operates backwards, ie most recent news is first. OK? You may have to go back a bit to piece the story together.

There are more pictures further down!

UPDATE DEC 15th 2004

The public inquiry into the four strawbale huts at Tir Ysbridol was three full days of intense scrutiny of Emma's project across the field here. The inspector was very interested in all we had to say, and Emma's team, from the Community Law Partnership, of Angus Murdoch, Phil Brown (planning consultant) and Steve Cottle (barrister), made an impressive lineup. Lots of exciting questions came up, eg when is a hut not a dwelling; when is it not a building; can it be used for human habitation but not the land around it; did I fiddle the photos showing the 20th Century hut had been finished in Jan. 1999; how comprehensive was the housing assessment report showing that Newport Pembs has no need for extra housing; do the Park actually intend to have a Low Impact Policy; what really is a curtilage and can they all have one or should they share one; just what is 'mens rea to meditate'; are you resident when you meditate; are the huts temporary or permanent; does it matter????
So we will get the results in about seven weeks, and you, dear reader, will be one of the first to know.

Meanwhile, today, I (Tony Wrench), Jane, and Emma and John from Tir ysbridol, have received notices that the Park will be taking us to court to seek an injunction to have all our structures pulled down! In the case of the Tir Ysbridol huts, this is a most disrepectful act by the Park towards the Welsh Assembly due planning process. For us in the roundhouse, the timing, just before Christmas and immediately after a gruelling appeal, comes as no surprise. This is par for the course from Ms Milner. We shall resist an injunction as best we can.

UPDATE DEC 3rd 2004

A very quiet six weeks. Emma's roundhouses, two fields away, come before a public planning inquiry next week, Dec 7th in the Memorial Hall, Newport, Pembs. Here is a picture of the retreat hut being built:

straw bale retreat hut being built as a workshop at a summer camp

Incidentally, the chairman of the Park's planning committee lives across the valley from us. From our hayfield, about half a mile away, we can see an enormous structure going up behind his big high impact house. This is in the National Park too. How would you assess it for visual impact?

a new barn for the Chairman

UPDATE Oct 10th 2004

The researchers from Oxford Brookes University called back yesterday to pick up the temperature bugs that have been recording temperatures inside and outside the roundhouse (and Emma's roundhouse near here) over the last three months. They were surprised to find how warm and comfortable our houses are despite being so low impact, and how cheaply we can heat our homes compared with the average house. (That's straw bales and cobwood for you). They will send us a copy of their official report when it comes out, and I'll put it on this site.

UPDATE OCT 2nd 2004

We still haven't received any date for the court case on the application for an injunction - it is with the Park's barrister. Well, Paul, as I have said before to you, it is never too late to give up and change sides, or at least try a bit of negotiation. Let's face it, what has the Park to gain by winning an injunction? It is unpopular enough already for trying to force us to demolish this ecohome while saying yes to 340 tourist chalets imported from Latvia for the Bluestone project.
And what if you lose??

picking 'Black Hamburg' grapes from roof, Oct 2nd 2004

Meanwhile, we have had a great grape crop on the roof. For those interested in permaculture or at least making productive use of turf roof space: we have an interesting mix now on the south side of the roof - a combination of Japanese Wineberry (rubus japonica, as recommended by Patrick Whitefield for ground cover), tayberry with its main roots down in the ground, and one Black Hamburg grape vine, also with its roots in the ground, that has sent leaders along the eaves and up all through this foot-thick tangle on the roof. I have zealously discouraged ordinary blackberry (bramble) from joining the fun as that makes harvesting just too painful. The grape trusses in this jungly mix have grown bigger and riper than those hanging on the eaves, maybe because there is plenty of light and more warmth from the sun retained there. I picked 31.5 lbs (14.3kg) of grapes from this one vine yesterday for wine making, and left a further 30% or so ripening on the vine.

inside the roundhouse, September 2004

UPDATE AUGUST 18th 2004

The planning Committee met on Monday 16th, and today we have received a letter from Ms Milner, the Development Control Officer, to say that the authority will take proceedings in the County Court to request an injunction forcing us to demolish the roundhouse. The committee decided not to take up our offer of a site visit, so they have still never seen it. A court injunction is a heavy and expensive instrument that cannot really be withstood once granted, so we are taking legal advice. Basically the law on enforcement has had to be amended a bit resulting from the law on human rights being incorporated into English law. This appears to say that any penalty, eg having our house demolished, should be proportionate to the damage that the house causes. No one has ever proved that our house has done any damage at all, but I expect fancy power-based arguments to be brought out saying that the principle of carrying out legal enforcement orders must be upheld, so not enforcing against us would damage that principle. A version of the perennial 'floodgates' argument, which also has never had any evidence put forward to support it. The fact is that our house does no damage to anything, is a good example of low-impact permaculture design, is a pointer to an entirely different way of looking at sustainable housing for the future, and is loved by thousands of people. Will any of this make any difference? We shall see. We have been urged to carry on fighting for the roundhouse by many people (see guestbook), and we don't have anywhere else to live, so we'll continue as best we can.
If you are an MP, a generous barrister specialising in planning matters, a member of the Welsh Assembly, someone who can write a good tough letter, or Nic Wheeler's mum, please be creative in your support.

Doing some roof repairs, July 2004.  The smoking can is to slow down a nest of wasps that we uncovered by accident

UPDATE AUG 3rd 2004
No report was made to the July committee. There will be an August committee meeting. The house has been visited by many people over the last few weeks, and is currently a case study by a University into how comfortable Low Impact householders feel relative to the outside temperature, as compared with 'normal' house users. There are heat sensors in various locations and we fill in a form four times a day. Last week we were also visited by a researcher from the University of East Anglia who is putting together the views of planners and low impact dwellers, with the aim of finding the most appropriate changes government should make for the planning system to plan for true sustainability.
For what it's worth, my recommendations to the government, via her, are;
1. Issue a simple Planning Guidance Directive saying 'In any planning application where a development would be outside current policies, the sustainability of the development, if conforming to the criteria below (Chapter 7's 15 Criteria), shall be a material consideration.
2. Issue a new planning guidance on Low Impact Development based on those criteria only.
3. Introduce a new land use class of Permaculture Land.
4. Set up a fast-track master plan for at least 100 new ecovillages in the next ten years.

UPDATE JULY 7th 2004.
Following the court case I emailed Ms Milner, which crossed with a letter from her asking our intentions. Here is my letter with her reply:
Dear Ms Milner,
During the course of last week's trial I showed the judge several paragraphs from Planning Guidance on good enforcement practice, including a quote from the Best Practice guide: "Do: Be flexible and consider genuine alternative solutions."

Since there is no time like the present, I would like to take this opportunity formally to invite your new committee to pay us a visit at the roundhouse, and to allow me ten minutes or so to explain its features and the value of Low Impact developments. We can then be sure that any decision they take is informed by up-to-date intelligence.
Yours sincerely,
Tony Wrench

and the reply:

Dear Mr Wrench,
thank you for your recent e mail.
The first meeting of the new committee is on July 21st and I intended to simply report to them the fact that there had been an appearance in the courts in Swansea and the sentence.
I have ordered a transcript of the judges deliberations and asked the Authoritys barrister for further advice. When this is received I will report more fully to the first available committee and at that time will pass on to the members your invitiation to visit the Roundhouse.
I will advise you when that report is to be presented.
yours sincerely
Cathy Milner

UPDATE JUNE 26th 2004:
Here's a good report of the case yesterday:
in the Scotsman.
And here is the BBC's report.
Thanks to the judge for listening so thoughtfully to what we had to say. He made it clear that he considered that the Park had misunderstood the role that the legal system has in enforcement, i.e. the Park should stop trying to get the courts to do their dirty work for them.
I think the way forward now is for the new Planning Committee formally to visit this house and to allow me to show them round, talk a bit about low impact issues, and look jointly for a solution. Ms Milner's uncompromising Thatcherite approach is now dead in the water, and any manager with any intelligence should take her off the case and start talking mediation and compromise, or, as Planning Guidance puts it, (below), "be flexible and consider genuine alternative solutions".

UPDATE JUNE 24th 2004:
Tomorrow we face the judge in Swansea for sentencing for not demolishing the roundhouse. We shall show the judge a short video prepared by Helen and Paul of Undercurrents - to whom many thanks - and will also be giving him a copy of a selection of your comments on the PCNP's website guestbook, which has evolved into a tome of fine and pithy statements. Question: Do the Park know? Do the management ever read their own website?!

UPDATE JUNE 7th 2004.

We have now heard that we will be sentenced by the Crown Court in Swansea on June 25th. I have received enthusiastic support from two local Welsh Assembly members, and a note from one, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, will be available to us in our support. It would be nice to know that the Welsh Assembly was willing on occasion directly to take action in cases where planning decisions ignore sustainability issues. Will it happen here? There is still time for the Park to withdraw their case.

BBC1 Wales visited us on Friday. They are producing a programme on sustainable development, and whether the Welsh Assembly is doing what it takes. The programme will go out on the 22nd June at 10.30pm after the evening news in wales, and on digital channel the next day. Thanks to them for some very interesting interviewing.

P.s. note from the future - this programme won the WWF award for Environmental programme of the Year!

Here is Jane in the house this week:

Jane at home, June 2004

UPDATE MAY 17th 2004

The magistrates at today's court decided to refer the case to the Crown Court in Swansea - probably in June - as they considered the issues merited deeper consideration than that normally given by a magistrates' court. This is fine by us, because it is good to feel that the issues are being taken seriously. There are also elections coming up, which may well change the composition of the Park planning committee into a body with more grasp of current realities and less willingness to follow good old fashioned bigotry. It also gives Park officers the opportunity to reflect on the need to continue to hound us while the refining of a new Low Impact Policy removes the black and white rules under which they chose to enforce against us in the first place. Tell Cath what you think if you like by email.

How else can you help? If you live in Pembrokeshire, please ask your local county council candidates whether they would continue to prosecute us for staying in the roundhouse, and if they say yes, ask for the planning reasons why. (Not losing-face reasons, or pour encourager les autres reasons or negative reasons of any kind - just positive, sound planning reasons.) If you don't get a good answer, vote for someone else, please!
There might be a case for some good investigative journalism on the subject of exactly how people elected onto Pembrokeshire County Council get appointed to serve on the Pembs Coast Nat. Park Committee. Who decides? What are the criteria for selection? If you find out, put it on this guestbook or email me.

UPDATE MAY 9th 2004

We have received a summons to the Magistrates' Court in Haverfordwest on Mon 17th May. We hope to put a simple case again and to point out that the Park do not have to enforce against us - in fact, given the circumstances and the fact that they are changing their policies to accommodate low impact developments, further prosecution would not be in the public interest.

UPDATE MAY 1st 2004

House is still standing, thanks to actions of Chapter 7 and The Land Is Ours who conducted a series of actions which included squatting the roundhouse for four days to prevent it being taken down. They also set up yurt camp outside the Park offices. Park officials finally agreed to a public meeting, but at a committee meeting the following Wednesday the members agreed to Nic Wheeler's (chief exec) suggestion that no public meeting should take place until the roundhouse is removed. They are still in denial, and have not heard any of our arguments. Jane and I have received a letter from Ms Milner that we will again be prosecuted for failing to demolish the roundhouse. As to whether it is a good idea for them to enforce, Simon Fairlie of Chapter 7 has sent me the following information:

From Enforcing Planning Control: Good Practice Guide for Local Planning Authorities, DETR 1997, para 3.5:

"The decisive issue for the planning authority to consider in each case (their emphasis) is whether the alleged breach of control would unacceptably affect public amenity or the existing use of land or buildings meriting protection in the public interest. It is also important to ensure that any enforcement action which the authority decide to take should be commensurate with the seriousness of the breach of control it is intended to remedy."

The emphasis on "in each case" is interesting. It suggests that enforcement should not be carried out simply to secure conformity with policy, but according to the merits of the case.

This is repeated in PPG 18, Enforcing Planning Control, which I guess is probably issued as TAN some number or other in Wales.

"In considering any enforcement action, the decisive issue for the LPA should be whether the alleged breach of control would unacceptably affect public amenity or the existing use of land or buildings meriting protection in the public interest. Enforcement action should always be commensurate with the seriousness of the breach of control to which it relates (for example it is usually inappropriate to take formal enforcement action against a trivial or technical breach of control which causes no harm to amenity in the locality of the site)."

From the Good Practice Guide Para 1.1: "The planning authority's decision whether to take enforcement action must always be well founded. Whether it is 'expedient' for the authority to initiate formal enforcement action, to remedy or stop an alleged breach of planning control, requires thorough assessment of the relevant factors in every case." (Their emphasis again). That assessment is made more difficult if the authority have not produced a clear statement of enforcement policy to provide a decision -making framework. Paragraph 9.1 of the booklet entitled "A Charter Guide: Development Control", published jointly by the National Planning Forum, the DETR, and the Welsh Office) states: 'The Council's policy on enforcement will be publicised. It will explain the Cpouncil's enforcement procedures and practices'.

Simon asks:

Have you asked them whether they have a "statement of enforcement policy"?

From Enforcing Planning Control: Legislative Provisions and Procedural Requirements DETR 1997 "The personal circumstances , including such matters as health, housing needs and welfare of persons suspected of acting in breach of planning control must be taken into account when deciding to take enforcement action. (R v Kerrier ex parte Uzell)."

From a table of Do's and Don'ts for planning officers in the Good Practice Guide:

"Do: Be prepared to give reasons for taking enforcement action. Do: Be flexible and consider genuine alternative solutions. Don't: give weight either way to the fact that the development has already taken place. Don't: be strong with the weak and weak with the strong."

And in answer to your earlier query, yes the LPA can quash the enforcement notice themselves. Section 173A of the Town and Country Planning Act states: "The local planning authority may (a) withdraw an enforcement notice issued by them or (b) waive or relax any requirement of such a notice and, in particular, may extend any period specified in accordance with section 173(9)".

UPDATE APRIL 14th 2004

Remarkable events have happened over the last few days. It may be quicker to link to the BBC:

click here

There is also an excellent report of the whole weekend in Indymedia here.

In short, we met in the big tipi on Good Friday - 18 people came to volunteer to demolish the roundhouse and we had a sharing at which we discussed the news that there was to be a demonstration the next day. We determined to hear the demonstrators and decided not to do anything structural for the time being. In the morning we sang songs in the roundhouse and heard reports that the demonstrators had also taken over Castell Henllys, the nearby Iron age reconstructed hill village.
This was great news, since I have remarked often on the fact that the Park were able to give themselves planning permission for these roundhouses in the countryside (they own the land).
The demonstrators arrived. We argued a bit in fun at the gate, and then we invited them down. They persuaded us that the house should not come down, and occupied it to make sure! Mary read out a long Section 6 notice to assert their squatters rights, and they stayed there all weekend, enjoying the hot water in the tank and the natural surroundings. As we had expected to leave the house anyway, Jane and I had an emergency den ready, so we spent the weekend in that. Our camp group were invited for supper to Castell Henllys on Sunday evening, and we had a wonderful evening in the presence of a new tribe of people of like mind, living simply in the wonderful thatched roundhouses, and in some yurts they had brought. We did circle dancing, and ate round the open fire. it could have been a scene from 2000 years ago.

On Tuesday there was a fine demonstration through the streets of Haverfordwest, culminating in demands outside the Park offices for negotiations with relevant Park officers, which they refused. The demonstrators erected two yurts in the car park, stayed there all night, and as far as I know are still there.

There has been massive media coverage and enormous public support. We are clear that the roundhouse must stay. Chapter 7 and The Land Is Ours have assured us that they will squat the house again should we try to take it down, and have also assured us of organised support in foiling any attempts by the Park to demolish it.

Stop press - as I type this Simon Heroic Fairlie is leading a small deputation - no press allowed! - to see Ms Milner in the Park offices. What will happen?
Here are some pictures of the weekend:

The Land Is Ours squat Castell Henllys  the roundhouse squatters prepare banners for the Tuesday march roadside layby demonstration of an instant strawbale hut Simon Fairlie demonstrates the strength of a reciprocal frame at the roadside Ideal Low Impact Home Exhibition the demonstrators flow into the entrance at Brithdir Mawr Tuesday demonstration in Haverfordwest Simon the Hero addresses the crowd outside the Park offices

UPDATE APRIL 5th 2004

We are still having a Roundhouse Deconstruction Camp 2004 starting on Fri April 9th. However, should you be in two minds about attending, there will be a demonstration march to Brithdir Mawr from Newport Pembs centre on Sat 10th with the aim of persuading us not to pull down the roundhouse. We will, of course, be willing to listen to the arguments, so the outcome will be interesting. There will be other activities over the weekend, and a demo at Haverfordwest on Tues. I don't know much about what is planned, but you can find more details on 01460 249204, 07786 952037, 07855 350164 or 0117 373 0346. We are expecting quite a weekend. On the wider issue, we are still expecting Mr Wheeler of the National Park to give us the Park's up to date definition of Low Impact Development, and the new policy being prepared. It is more than curious that Ms Milner and Mr Wheeler are able to deny that the new policy could have any effect on the Roundhouse without being able to reveal what it actually is.

UPDATE FEB 15th

We have decided to take the roundhouse down by hand, and to invite as many people as want to come to help with it in the easter week of April 9th - 17th 2004. See here for details.
An up to date account was in the Guardian of Monday 16th Feb. (sorry missed out the pics).
This decision is taken bearing in mind that Ms Cathy Milner (email) is again recommending to the planning committee that they continue to prosecute and if that fails two more times, to call in the bulldozers. Should the committee decide, against her recommendation, to let us live in peace, or should the Welsh Assembly intervene to say enough is enough, I will post the miraculous good news on this page, or, failing that, in the guestbook.

We shall have a roundhouse in kit form by the end of April. Creative offers welcomed!

UPDATE FEB 7th 2004:

Letter from Catherine Milner, Development Control Officer, Pembs Coast Nat. Park on 29th Jan (3 days after court case):
"...The Enforcement Notice served on you by this Authority dated 15th August 2002 remains on the land and has still yet to be complied with.
Failure to comply with the notice within one month (i.e. 29th February 2004) will result in this Authority having to take the matter back to Court."

Persistent, aren't they? What is the right thing to do?

Our local AM (member of the Welsh Assembly Government) Tamsin Dunwoody-Kneavesy, who supports our stand, will be attempting to negotiate a compromise with the Park on Monday. We would be prepared to accept a draw, eg leave the building standing but retained as an agricultural store and green woodworking space.
Would you be willing to take on one of our three fine female (neutered) cats? There are pictures of them elsewhere on this site. They are finding all this uncertainty nearly as disturbing as we are, so if you would consider it, don't live on a fast-traffic road, and could come here to pick one up, please email me.

UPDATE JAN 31st 2004:

We attended the magistrates' court on Mon 26th Jan. It was a bit stuffy waiting so Emma and I sang circle dance songs on the grass roundabout outside while Jane and Atinuke danced:

We were fined 100 on each count (Jane and I had two counts; Julian and Emma had one each) and 100 costs each.
This was not too bad, and the park did not cover their costs. However, within five days Jane and I have received a further letter from the development control officer Ms C. Milner ordering us again to demolish the roundhouse before the end of February or they will take us to court again. This obviously cannot go on for ever, so we are considering what to do.

Here are two reports from the Western Mail from the last week:

report of Jan 24th 2004

report of Jan 27th 2004

We are grateful for at last having been given the chance to be heard, and trust that the park authority will have the sense to stop wasting public money on control-freakery and will instead concentrate on working with those of us who care deeply about sustainable living to form a new enlightened Low Impact Development policy that can be usefully taken as a model by any local planning authority anywhere.

UPDATE JAN 23rd:

We are preparing to go to court on Monday 26th Jan to be punished for not demolishing the roundhouse. Jane and I are being charged, as well as Emma and Julian, who were the legal owners of the land when the enforcement order was in effect. We are debating whether to attempt a plea of not guilty, because of the poor human rights considerations made by the authorities, but will most likely plead guilty. What will be the verdict? More next week!

An irony is that the National Park has now decided, after receiving so many formal objections, to withdraw its opposition to Low Impact Development within the park being included as a new policy in its Joint (with Pembrokeshire) Unitary Development Plan. The public inquiry on the plan starts this next Tuesday,the 27th Jan. The park commissioned a further report on LIDs which translates the previous report by the UWE and Land Use Consultants into Plannese, leaving out such subversive terms as 'permaculture',for instance. Nevertheless, its inclusion in the Plan will be a huge leap forward, and we still have an opportunity to recommend changes to make the new policy more user-friendly.

Ironic, churlish even, for the park authority to continue to put the boot in to the people who brought LID's so clearly to their attention, and to order to be demolished a house that would almost certainly pass their new tests? Yes. You could maybe urge them to be a bit more far-sighted, should you wish, dear reader, by clicking onto Guestbook on the park's website, and adding your comments.

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