News and Developments in 2005

This page follows on from Story Part 4 - 2004, naturally enough, and will be updated with the most recent developments at the top. So for an idea of the history you will need to read downwards and back in time.

UPDATE Nov 28th 2005.
The roundhouse features in a nice article in yesterday's Observer about a photographic exhibition of low impact dwellings by David Spero in the Photographers' Gallery, 5 Great Newport St, London WC2 until Feb 2006. Next July we will have to prove that our cluster of low impact houses and huts makes a 'contribution'. Looks like we are now contributing culturally as well. Here's the article.

UPDATE June 13th 2005

Breakthrough Good News!

At their Planning committee meeting this Wednesday the Park are being recommended to refrain from pursuing an injunction against us until May 2006 (Sept 2005 sub-update: this is now agreed to be July 2006), when the new Low Impact Policy will have been recommended on by the inspector and come into effect, so long as we build no more roundhouses at Brithdir Mawr in the meantime. This is great news, and hopefully leads us, slowly but surely, to the 'Joined up Thinking' scenario below. Thanks to all who have worked to make this possible.

BBC News Online Report

We are going to a public meeting on Friday 17th June of the National Assembly Mid and West Wales Regional Committee in Carmarthen. The topic will be 'Sustainable Development - Is Wales Learning to Live Differently?'. If I have the chance to talk at this meeting, I will hope to say this.

UPDATE May 12th 2005

Part II of the case conference will now be on June 27th. As the judge was hoping to see more positive steps towards resolving this case, we have sent a letter to the Park chief executive proposing talks aimed towards our putting in an application for outline planning permission for a low impact settlement. The letter is here.

UPDATE 29th April 2005

Following the adjournment of the case conference described below, it seems to me that we are in an interesting and crucial stage in this story. It could go either way.
Scenario 1: the 'Over my Dead Body' route. In this scenario the Park, given two months to reconsider, allow the previous pattern to continue. They grudgingly allow Emma to keep her huts until 18 months is up, then apply for an injunction to have them removed. They try as hard as possible to set the hurdles in Policy 50 so high that none of our projects or homes would be acceptable. They delay Policy 50 as long as possible, and when the inspector recommends something recalling the spirit of the first CCW report on Low Impact development, they waffle and appeal to fear and mistrust in some committee members. In the meantime they press for an injunction against Jane and me in the county court. If they win, Jane and I refuse to move, protesters come back to support us, we finally get arrested and spend a short while in prison. The media love it. Cath Milner becomes even more famous than she already is; maybe she joins a nunnery. Nick Wheeler loses the rest of his hair and any chance of further progress up the high ladder for smoothies in Welsh Quangos. After a year, the roundhouse is still standing and Emma is now due to take down her two huts. She refuses. Same story. This could go on for years.
Would the Welsh Assembly step in finally and do something? Who knows? They were going to consider this case as a 'novel planning issue' five years ago, but Ms Milner talked them out of it. Would she get away with it this time? I doubt it.
Version 1.1: we and/or Emma actually win our court case on similar grounds to the Caroline Barry case, ie there is no planning policy as yet to support our settlement, but as the Park can prove no actual damage to the environment, the demolition of our homes would be disproportionate under the Human Rights Act article 8, so the judge refuses to grant an injunction. No-one would be better off by this, but the Park would have spent a fortune of public money on legal costs for no result and would continue to get negative media coverage, verging on the contemptuous.

Scenario 2: the 'Joined Up Thinking' route. In this two months Mr Paul Cooper, the Park's barrister, convinces Mr Wheeler, the chief executive, that real consultation is actually necessary. The two of them, plus the Chairman and members of the planning committee, pay us an official site visit, at which we show them round, explain what our needs are, and offer a set of restrictions, similar to those agreed by Dartmoor National Park for the Steward Wood settlement. The Park accept these proposals, fast-track the new policy 50, grant permission for a new Low Impact settlement at Brithdir Mawr, and we continue as usual, but breathing more easily in our beds. The result? The Park is acknowledged as the leading authority in Wales for sustainable development etc etc. Cost? One site visit, and a few meetings to sort out details.

How will it go?

If you wish to play a part in this, there is a guestbook in the Park's website.

UPDATE April 27th 2005

Four of us, (Jane, Emma , John and I) attended the case conference to determine what should go to the county court and when. The National Park's barrister, Mr Paul Cooper, and their enforcement officer Dai Griffiths, represented the Park. The judge was concerned to prevent the case going to court for an injunction hearing if possible. Emma and John had a prepared written statement that they would not carry out any further hut building works in the next 18 months, and wanted an assurance from the Park that it would actively seek a way forward to seeing how the huts here could be accommodated within the upcoming Low Impact policy 50. Mr Cooper said it was 'given' that the park would, of course, carry out its statutory functions, but we pointed out that the park has never attempted any constructive dialogue with us, so failing a new approach from them the 18 months allowance by the inspector would be likely to be wasted. We need a statement in writing that they will actively pursue a constructive solution. We also pointed out that the planning committee had not been informed of the inspector's report before being asked to sanction injunction action, and referred to several recent cases where authorities have worked out satisfactory deals with low Impact settlers (Caroline Barry, Jyoti, Tinker's Bubble, Steward wood...). This is all a bit dense, isn't it? Anyway, the judge acknowledged our points and our request that some of the park committee members and officers with a more open mind than Ms Milner be invited here to talk through the possibilities. The judge therefore gave us a further time period, which may amount to two months or more, to get clearer on what could be discussed and agreed. He declined to make any order separating our roundhouse case from Emma and John's huts case. As one commentator said, the park has dug itself into a hole. The judge is requiring it to dig itself out. This is a good development.
There has been massive media interest in this. We have been giving interviews to TV and radio all day. People want the chance to live more simply in a sustainable way, and the media appreciate this.

Here's the BBC Wales

UPDATE April 8th 2005

A new roundhouse, 13-sided and turf covered like this one but slightly smaller at 7metres diameter, is being built at the famous Tui ecovillage community in New Zealand. Robina McCurdy the builder, a founder member of the community, has seven assistants in the project, and is using the Building a Low Impact Roundhouse book plus a few long phone calls to here in Wales. The design gained a building permit by the addition of some concrete around the feet of the support posts, and by boxing in roof insulation with tongue and groove sarking. When we get a picture of this small but historic development I will, of course, put it here.

UPDATE March 30th 2005

We have received several visitors this month. It is interesting that planning inspectors are arguing that, in theory, we prevent people from enjoying the freedom to appreciate the special qualities of a national park, whereas in practice what happens is that people are going well out of their way to come onto private land to see something here that interests them. On the second Sunday of March the local Ramblers' Association diverted from the public footpath to visit and be shown around by Tony Haigh of Brithdir Mawr, and on the 17th we were on the itinerary of a full Permaculture course led by Angie Polkie from Lampeter. It was nice to be asked meaty questions about the types of plant we have in our grey water reed beds and the construction of the solar water heater. Here are the group:

visit from Angie Polkie's Poppit Permaculture Course

A development coming up is a one-day conference on Housing in Rural Wales organised by the Institute of Welsh Affairs. This conference has its origins in part from the demonstration held here a year ago to urge us not to demolish this roundhouse, although nowhere in the blurb is there mention of this. It is to be held on the 6th April in the Pembrokeshire College, Haverfordwest. Speakers include Nic Wheeler, chief executive of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (he will be speaking on 'Current Trends' - quiet at the back, please), and Simon Fairlie, hero of last year's demo, speaking on Low Impact Development. More details on the Institute of Welsh Affairs website under the button "Events". Here's a pic of Simon again, just to let him know we love him:

Simon Fairlie demonstrates the strength of a reciprocal frame roof

UPDATE Feb 27th 2005

We visited the Coed Hills community last week at their eco/arts centre in between Bridgend and Cardiff. They have received enforcement notices from their local planning authority for several excellent low impact structures, including this simple strawbale home which cost 285 to build. That's about the same as it costs to keep one homeless family in b&b for a week. There are many people struggling at the moment to get the authorities to let them live simply. It should not be this hard.Here's the strawbale house:

Strawbale house at Coed Hills under threat of demolition

On Sundays one member, Lenny, gives a brief but pithy sermon at his pulpit deep in the woods. In this one he urges us to let go of our culture of fear and the past in favour of living life fully in the present.

Lenny says Be Here Now

UPDATE Feb 12th 2005

We have received a letter from the Carmarthen County Court to say that, upon reading letters from both sides, the court orders us to appear at a Case Management Conference on April 26th. We take this to mean that our letters to the court following the National Park's absurd bundle of papers sent to all the hut dwellers here just before Christmas (see 2004 reports) was successful and the ball is now in the long grass.

We have also heard that the inspector hearing Caroline Barry's appeal for the erection of her 'temporary' timber, strawbale and cordwood dwelling in Butleigh, Somerset, has granted her appeal. (See details, inspector's report, etc, here.)
The permission is temporary in that it is linked to her personal occupation, so she can live there for life. What swayed it for the inspector was that the only damage the Council could claim she was doing, since it is a low impact permaculture holding, was that it was against policy and could create a precedent. Destroying her home, however, would be a huge interference with her human rights. So he granted her appeal. I recommend that Paul Cooper, the Park's barrister, study this judgement, because our case is almost identical. We would be quite happy to have a personal permission on this roundhouse. We would not be able to sell it, and would have to take it down if we left it. That would be fine. How about it, Paul? Recommend to Ms Milner and co. that they go for a draw. Stop wasting public money.
If you agree, dear reader, please feel free to tell the Development Control Officer so on her email.

UPDATE 7th Feb 2005

The weather has been fine for several days. Our field hosts the two draught horses Domino and Quinn for a couple of weeks. Here's the view from our front door, with them eating gorse flowers.

Domino and Quinn eating gorse flowers

I have been doing some hedge laying over the last three weeks, which has made available a considerable amount of hazel and hawthorn wood. We don't use chainsaws or other machine tools down here, to preserve the tranquillity of this lovely land, so Jane and I used a double-handed saw together to coppice the larger trees in the hedge and cut up the pieces.

UPDATE 19th Jan 2005
We received the inspector's report today on the planning appeal for the four Tir Ysbrydol huts.
Result: the oldest hut gets immunity from enforcement because the inspector accepted that it has been up for more than four years,
The retreat hut must still come down in 6 months,
The two other huts have their appeal dismissed but enforcement postponed for 18 months.
Overall not an encouraging result. It is clear that the planning system is still unwilling as a whole to allow people to live simply and close to nature on their own land, even if the government talks about 'Starting to Live Differently'. At present we are despondent.

An appeal on the law would be possible (eg why is it still possible for an inspector to say, for the purposes of human rights, that the huts damage the environment and so do harm to the economic good of the country, because the environment is 'encompassed' within the economic good of the country? This is complete nonsense, yet all inspectors keep getting away with it.) The catch is that to establish more commonsense through the courts would cost thousands. Now if we were an oil company, we'd take it to the House of Lords, would we not? Maybe BP should set up an ecovillage somewhere...

UPDATE 7th Jan 2005
The County Echo, based in Fishguard, have consistently written the most accurate press accounts of developments here. Here is their report from 24th Dec 2004.

Happy New Year!

p.s. Please don't forget to check out the Guestbook on the home page. Your comments add up to an impressive mountain of support. Also, check out the links on it where it says 'home page' - there are some amazing websites out there.

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