Story Part 2 - July-Dec 2003

This page is long with lots of words. As something happens, I put it on the end, so the most up to date bit will be right at the end. Thank you for your patience.

We considered the reasons for refusal (in detail click here), and decided to appeal by written representation, which is cheap and fairly quick. Here is the text of my Grounds for Appeal statement:

ROUNDHOUSE - GROUNDS FOR APPEAL

INTRODUCTION

At the outset I would like to explain once more the context of this development, which is substantially different from the average application for a cottage in the countryside. The roundhouse is situated in a carefully chosen location near the wood edge on a south-facing bank, once covered with bracken, in a part of the farm not visible from any of the surrounding hills. We do not own the land - this is currently still the property of Mr and Mrs Orbach who have the intention of making the land and buildings over to a trust or company limited by guarantee with strong clauses guaranteeing that the land cannot be sold and must be worked communally and organically for the benefit of the local wildlife and general environment. We are members of the Brithdir Mawr community which farms the land. To be a member requires several trial visiting weeks then a year's probationary period, followed by a unanimous decision by the existing members before acceptance. The roundhouse cannot, therefore, be sold on the open market. This house was built as part of the project here into living sustainably. Most members live in converted farm buildings around the farmyard. This building demonstrates a low impact alternative to this, which involves designing from scratch a simple autonomous dwelling for two community members. No cement was used in the construction, and it is mainly wood and mud. It is temporary in the sense that it is biodegradable, being designed to last no more than thirty years or so.

I will attempt to answer the points made by the Development Control Officer in relation to existing policies (see here), but the essence of this appeal is simply to ask for licence to remain living in this house for a further two years, by which time the Joint Unitary Development Plan for Pembrokeshire will be finalised and the Welsh Assembly will hopefully also have issued new guidance on Low Impact developments.

I trust that the inspector will bear in mind that the latter guidance will be as a direct result of studies made on Low Impact developments commissioned by the Assembly, and part funded by the Pembs Coast Nat. Park, that are totally relevant to this application. In commissioning the study the WA specifically noted that the present requirements for functional and financial tests make it virtually impossible for groups of people to farm collectively with the aim of sustainable land use. This is true in this case for two reasons:

1. That no one is indispensable in a community situation. There will always be someone else who could, in a crisis, put the chickens in or free a trapped goat from a fence, etc. In the interests of a balanced life and efficient operation, this is of course a good thing - it means, however, that an application for a dwelling for a community member will always fail the 'functional' test.

2. Sustainable land use policies are often different from policies geared to profit. Because we at Brithdir Mawr grow all our own vegetables, plus milk, cheese, fruit, heating fuel and other essentials that most people buy with money, we are able to live with a much lower financial expectancy than the average farmer. This is helped by current government trends in agriculture to support farmers in safeguarding the countryside and biodiversity rather than in subsidising volume of production. We earn approx £140 per week from the Environmentally Sensitive Area scheme, for example, which is enough to support three or four individuals in our lifestyle, but which would be unlikely to be considered 'economically viable' even for one worker on a normal profit-centred farm. The Welsh Assembly (in its consultative document 'Learning to Live Differently') has acknowledged that if sustainability is to be achieved, the status quo is not an option. For some authorities this is not an easy idea to take on board.

This is therefore the context. The old rules have been found wanting in several key areas, and we have played a part as a community both in encouraging the powers that be to consider new approaches, but also in taking part in the Welsh Assembly study as one of the six farms chosen as case studies.

It should also be noted that the new policies being drafted at the moment in favour of Low Impact developments are not the usual top-down changes. Almost universally they are being considered because the current guidelines have not responded to the challenges posed by the Rio Summit, by Local Agenda 21, and by the demands from a substantial minority of people to be allowed to live simply on the land. This is not merely a romantic dream. It is a priority for a sustainable future that the rules make some space for intelligent experimentation in integrated lifestyles that are less environmentally damaging that is the norm; a norm regrettably built into many assumptions underlying the planning system. (Example: that any person living in a secluded natural situation must, by definition, be damaging that situation. Proof? None.)

This appeal, then, asks for something not uncommon in normal life, but less common in a planning context - for time for the old rules to be improved. If the old rules, after two years, still deny any scope for Low Impact developments, under strong controls and conditions maybe, in the National Park, then may the old rules apply. But while new rules - which are driven by pressure from the bottom up, and so are prone to bureaucratic delay in implementation - are being prepared and drafted even as this is being written, I argue that it would be in breach of my and my partner's human rights, and be contrary to the public interest, to demolish our only home and working base in this community.

DETAILED POLICY POINTS

1. Dyfed Structure Plan. In the light of recent government emphases on sustainable land use, I would argue that a couple living on a sustainable rural project, engaged in gardening, coppicing, goat keeping, milk and cheese making, farm carpentry and adding value by woodcraft to home coppiced timer are engaged totally in 'other appropriate employment'.

2. PPGW 51.1 'Strictly controlled' does not mean 'always refused'. 10.6.1 says there must be special justification for a new house in the countryside, and then gives an example. Another example might be the special justification for this house, as a unique and valuable part of an experimental project into sustainable living, and as a house with architectural merit of its own (see evidence of Prof Malcolm Parry, first appeal ref. 513090).

On 10.6.3 and 10.6.4 I refer the inspector to the report of the Pembrokeshire Estates Dept officer, appended as Appendix 1. (Sorry; this is not uploaded yet)

3.GE1.
Consideration was given to all these issues:

1. Character.
The shape was chosen after considering the heritage of ancient ethnic dwellings in this area, and particularly the round huts on Carningli, half a mile away and above us, and the earth, wood and thatch roundhouses at Castell Henllys approximately five miles away. Many visitors have commented on these parallels, and this house has been praised as having the character of that heritage, while still using some modern materials.

2. Scale/bulk.
The house reflects the scale of the nearby fields and copse. Being earth sheltered, its bulk is minimised. It appears much larger inside than out, due to this earth sheltering, and the fact that a round house contains 43% more floor area than a rectangular house of the same wall length.

3. Siting
The siting was a the result of appraisal of the whole farm to find the point at which a) the land used was not high value for agricultural use nor biodiversity
b) the structure could not be seen from any of the surrounding hills, nor any public right of way.
c) the slope of land faced towards the south, thereby maximising passive and active solar potential.

4. Overall design, detailing and materials.
The overall design was based on permaculture principles, and took several months. In particular, attention was given to using no cement, which, together with the choices of wood, cob and rubber (not PVC though the latter would have cost half the price), mean that the house is in essence biodegradable. The details of window layout were chosen to give a gradual widening of glazed element as the curve of the walls comes round from north to south, but this is offset by a conscious choise of oak windowsill on three main windows at the same level, together with a level wood henge above the windows, to give a constant theme to the appearance. I have taken the original inspector's comments on inappropriate materials on board, and have rebuilt and moved the water solar panel to reduce its visual impact, have removed one solar PV panel completely, and placed the other in an inconspicuous position on the roof.

5. Layout and landscaping.
As the house is earth sheltered, this is the best landscaping there is. The earth removed from the site that has not been used in the walls forms a bank to the east, now planted with raspberries, tayberries and two apple trees. From the north the house is not detectable from even 50 metres away. The willow, tayberry and poplar plantings, combined with the situation of the north edge of the house between two existing hawthorn trees, ensure even more than two years' ago that the house nestles almost invisibly in the landscape.

6. Visual impact
Several visitors to our hostel have set off from the yard with clear instructions on how to find the roundhouse 400 metres away and have failed. It is nationally famous for its low visual impact. The edge details on the roof are designed to minimise the impact of straight lines on the eye. The turf on the roof has been incremented by grape vines and tayberries to blend in with the surrounding vegetation. Is there a dwelling of lower visual impact, with planning permission, in Pembrokeshire?

4.Policies GE2, HO4 and the guidance in TAN 6
These are the rules referred to in Introduction above, whichhave been found to need extension to cover low impact developments like this. The roundhouse cannot be said at the moment to conform with HNP8 although it is needed, and it is affordable. It is a development in connection with agriculture, but as currently construed the functional and financial tests would preclude it. May I, however, again refer the inspector to Appendix 1, in which Mr Kingston refers to the case of Petter and Harris v the Secretary of State and Chichester District Council (Court of Appeal 1999) in which Lords Buxton and Sedleill viable, and we still need this house to live in.

MATERIAL CONSIDERATIONS

There are several material considerations that I request the inspector to take account of. These were dealt with in the first appeal so I would request that they be reconsidered. In a nutshell, they are:

1. The house is not an independent estate, but an integral feature of a farm being run with the express aim of environmental sustainability. We will continue to seek what it takes to achieve true sustainability. We have no interest in selling this piece of land for a profit. We simply want to live here.

2. The house is perhaps the best known example in Wales of an eco-house designed specifically with a low ecological footprint in mind. It is therefore a pointer to future uses of recycled materials, forestry thinnings and permaculture design, and is a continuing source of public interest.

3. The house, being biodegradable, will rot away one day in any case. No cement is used anywhere in the construction, and I would be quite happy to contract with the authority to keep it that way, including no tarmac on the track, etc. I have already offered to waive any permitted development rights pending review in two years' time.

HUMAN RIGHTS

In his consideration of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, and its application in this case, the previous inspector (of appeal 513090) seemed to argue that severe interference with someone's home, ie by demolishing it, was justified if it prevents a greater harm being done to the economic life of the region, within which the environment was 'subsumed'. I would with respect ask that this be reconsidered. I argue simply that this Article is saying that there is a balance to be found between the individual's rights and the need for a region's environment and economic health to be safeguarded. Sometimes, if a new dam, factory, runway or power line is being obstructed by someone's home, then for the greater good that person must have their life disrupted. That is very different from this case, where no planning officer or inspector has come up with any evidence to suggest that any damage to the environment or economic good of the region is in fact being done by our living here. The only damage alleged at the inquiry was but the Development Control Officer who said that the existence of this house damages 'the rules'(!). In an extreme case of new, socially and politically expensive rules that had been fought hard over and won at a cost to a fragile public order, that argument might be tenable. But here, where even planning officers admit that their rules are out of date and are due for some changes, this holds no strength at all. I contend strongly that this new human rights legislation has a significant effect on the old rules of planning as they apply in this case, and that there is a new test that need be satisfied before such disruption to our lives can be contemplated:

what is the proof that by being here we are damaging the economic life of the region?

I would assert that, far from damaging the economic life of the region, we now actually contribute to it, by virtue of the number of visitors or ecotourists who visit this farm and house. (1200 pa on the latest estimate). These visitors arrive on foot, look round, and walk back up the track. They may spend money at the Brithdir Mawr hostel or on crafts, or in Newport town. There will certainly be fewer if the house is demolished, although we would no doubt get some archaeologists in the future looking at the post holes. My livelihood would be severely damaged by demolition - probably six months' production or more.

If no economic gains are to be had from demolition, even thinner is the environmental argument. Tractors, trucks and earth movers would be necessary to erase what has become a beautiful balanced ecosystem of grass, fruit trees and bushes, and natural vegetation. A slight drop in biodiversity in the long term, (a turf roof encourages certain species that find it more difficult on the ground), and a drastic drop in the short term, are all that would be achieved.

I therefore wish forcibly to re-assert my and my partner's human rights to continue to live in the roundhouse undisturbed.

SUMMARY

I am not arguing against planning controls. I am very keen not to add to any of the visual problems of the built environment. Every building can be beautiful, and, in a National Park, should be. I have tried - most people say with success - to build beauty into this house.

The planning system is not yet achieving environmental sustainability, increasing biodiversity, nor even a viable, living countryside. I want to play a part in the solution in an appropriate way.

For 20 years I have been researching ways in which humans and nature can live in harmony. This in my opinion is the single most important issue facing society today, and my part in it has not been through some organisation or government body, but from the ground, as urged on ordinary individuals by Agenda 21 of the Rio Summit.

My house illustrates that it is possible:
1. to design and build a simple home from natural and recycled materials for less than a tenth of current house costs
2. to build such a house with my own and friends' hands with very low impact on the environment, and causing virtually no industrial waste
3. to live in a low impact home without causing damage visually or environmentally.
It is in the public interest that it remain.

If permission for this house to remain is granted, that permission will no doubt serve as a model to other authorities and other low-impact dwellers, so I do not want to ask for any permission that could be abused by high-impact developers. I am therefore happy for such conditions to be imposed as will be consistent with future low-impact use classes and policies. I am optimistic that the Welsh Assembly, having decided to commission the report into Low Impact Developments, and taking account of its stated policy on sustainable development, will indeed make radical changes to guidance within the next two or three years, to allow individuals and groups seeking to live simply and sustainably on the land the planning framework to do so.
20.7.02

view of roundhouse from the East side, July 2002

That Low Impact Developments Report

Here is an extract from an email to me from James Shorten, of Land Use Consultants, 19th July 02:

'I can tell you that against the sustainability appraisal Brithdir Mawr perfomed strongly. Also, we are recommending new national and local policy for LID in Wales and detailed means of control. The details of this may change in the final report but not the principles.

In short we are recommending that the planning system moved towards LID. Now before getting too hopeful you need to remember that this is a research report and the findings / conclusions / recommendations are ours and not those of NAW, CCW or PCNP. Also, and following, the report isn't policy and should NAW etc feel inclined to take up LID policy this won't happen at once. That said it would be fair to say that our research is clearly supportive of genuine LID.'

Park Committee issue Enforcement Order

On August 11th the Planning Committee issued an enforcement order to me to demolish the roundhouse within six months of the notice coming into effect, which is on Sept 15th 2002. Ihave until Sept 15th to appeal. Ms Milner, the Devt. Control Officer, has also written a lengthy statement in reply to my appeal statement printed above, and on Aug 22nd I sent a reply to that.

Good news on the Policy Front

The good development is that the occupants of the Low Impact settlement in Steward Wood in Devon have in mid-August received the inspector's report on their appeal, and he granted their appeal! The main reasons were his agreement with their submission that the Petter and Harris case does allow a wider interpretation of the functional and financial tests in cases like ours, and also his more enlightened reading of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act.
For the full report click here This gives us great hope. The Steward Wood residents visited Brithdir Mawr before they started their venture. They too are in a National Park, and they have aims almost identical to ours.

2nd September - we were visited by the Welsh Assembly inspector today, together with Brian and Derek the Enforcers from the Park. So the decision may not be too long away.

INSPECTOR REFUSES APPEAL

We heard on Sept 10th that the inspector had turned down our appeal. His report is a not unreasonable one. He did find our house out of keeping with the landscape, he said he could not take account of future reports on LIDs, he found fairly thin reasons to distinguish our case from the Steward Wood one, and he said that the Human Rights Act would not be breached by demolition of the roundhouse. So we have six months to vacate and demolish it. I will let you know what we end up doing. We plan to spend October getting the feel of some of the more mountainous depopulated parts of Portugal and Spain near the Portuguese border, to see whether there is anywhere in that region that calls to us as the potential site for an ecovillage. We may also visit ecovillages already started in that region. There is also the offer of a stay in a depopulated village on an island off Croatia that sounds very exciting! if you know of a place that already has potential as an ecovillage for low impact builders and permaculture people, with official support and ease of purchase of land, please let me know here !

BBC Online news report 19th Sept 2002

SUNDAY TIMES ARTICLE NOV 24th 2003

(If you have been around this site you will know most of this stuff. This, however, does say how we stand as of late Nov.)

November 24, 2002

Why I Moved: A dream in ruins
A Welsh community group tell Nicola Smith why they have to destroy their eco house, despite strong local backing for it

An eco house built from natural materials does not sound like a blot on the landscape, but when a spotter plane spied Tony Wrench and Jane Faith’s roundhouse in Pembrokeshire, it sparked a planning battle that ended with them being ordered to literally tear down their house. With a thriving vegetable garden, ducks, chickens, a compost lavatory and a milk float for transport, Wrench and Faith were living off the land on a smallholding in Cwm Cych, southwest Wales, when in 1996 they decided to join a self-sufficient community on a friend’s land nearby.

“Jane and I are members of a circle dance and ceilidh band, and another member, Emma, was looking to start a land-based community with her husband, Julian,” explains Wrench, 56, whose music and wood-turning provide his sole income. “We would practise weekly in the wooden tepee I had built as a studio on our smallholding, and Emma pointed out the travel costs we could save if we built something similar down in the woods on their land at Brithdir Mawr, and lived in it.”

Wrench had lived in a sustainable community during the 1970s, and was interested in trying it again. He knew it was not always harmonious, so he and Faith decided to join Brithdir Mawr for a trial period. They erected a bender, a simple canvas shelter, on a south-facing slope on the farm. Shortly afterwards, they began to build their roundhouse, an eco home based on a traditional Celtic design.

“I had built several low-cost buildings before, using recycled materials and wood, usually using a roofing method called a reciprocal frame, which allows a decent span without a central pole,” explains Wrench. “I have been experimenting with this kind of roof for 10 years.”

The walls of the roundhouse are made of cordwood and mud, while the roof incorporates 100 round wooden beams. Straw bales tied together on canvas are placed on top of the wooden rafters, followed by rubber pond-liner and turf.
With a little help from their friends, Wrench and Faith spent four winter months thinning the forest by hand and cutting logs to size, and a further four months the following winter building the roundhouse.

The total cost of the house was £3,000, including a wood stove, plumbing, solar panels, double-glazed windows and lighting. The couple were so eager to take up residence that they moved in when only nine of the 13 walls were complete. They had found their dream. “Freedom from so many right angles allows freedom of being. It is also warm and peaceful,” Wrench says.

A year later, however, the roundhouse was picked up by a planning authority spotter plane looking for unauthorised caravans. The authority insisted that Wrench and Faith’s home was outside its development boundaries and must be destroyed.

So why hadn’t they applied for planning permission at the start? “As far as I know, there are no examples of permission being given in advance for a low-impact dwelling of mud, wood and turf,” says Wrench. “We estimated our chance of getting approval before we had built it as nil, and after we had built it — when it could be seen and its context appreciated — as about 30%.”

Wrench and Faith submitted their application to Pembrokeshire Coast National Park but it was rejected. John Evans, its communications director, says: “The authority refused planning permission purely on the grounds that it was a dwelling built in the open countryside without any justification. The dwelling was built without planning permission.”

Wrench and Faith appealed and a public inquiry ensued, at which many people spoke in their favour, but the inspector maintained that the roundhouse, made of predominantly natural materials and powered by renewable energy, “demonstrably damaged the landscape”.

“We have continued to fight for the retention of the roundhouse because I have still not been given a good reason why it should be demolished and because the hundreds, verging on the thousands, of people who have visited it have urged us to continue,” says Wrench. However, two months ago, the planners finally ruled that the couple’s dwelling must be destroyed by March.

Wrench and Faith’s only financial commitments are £2 a week each to the land kitty that supplements the sale of farm produce, and £4 a week to the food kitty, so the 20-strong group can get a monthly wholefood order. Most of the food is grown in the gardens and Tony also makes wine. It is a way of life they want to continue.

“I have only recently come to believe that to live simply and sustainably we may have to leave the UK,” says Wrench, who, with Faith, is now looking in Spain and Portugal for a suitable way of life.
An eco village with 40 inhabitants in the remote mountains of northern Spain may become their next home. “They speak mainly Spanish, but with some German and English, although there are no English people at the moment,” says Wrench. “I like that, and I enjoy attempting to speak Spanish.”

However, there are also big issues to consider — the village is so remote that it can be cut off for weeks at a time. Newcomers must experience all four seasons before being offered an eco house to buy.

But one huge positive for Wrench and Faith is the support of the local Spanish authorities. “The region of Castile and Leon has recognised that people must be given space to try out new sustainable ways if the countryside is to retain people,” says Wrench. The village therefore has its own council, official mayor and state-funded schoolteacher.

They must decide on their destination before mid-February. “At the moment, neither Jane nor I are clear whether this eco village will be our next step,” explains Wrench. “As I grow older, I don’t know if, despite the pull of the mountain village community, my body really wants the discomfort of a minor trek down 60 metres of hill path in pitch dark just to go the lavatory at night.
“But it feels like if we have to move from our beloved roundhouse, the path, for me at least, will lead to northern Spain.”

Dec 02, still standing.  View thru willow in SE


Back to Homeasons before being offered an eco house to buy.

But one huge positive for Wrench and Faith is the support of the local Spanish authorities. “The region of Castile and Leon has recognised that people must be given space to try out new sustainable ways if the countryside is to retain people,” says Wrench. The village therefore has its own council, official mayor and state-funded schoolteacher.

They must decide on their destination before mid-February. “At the moment, neither Jane nor I are clear whether this eco village will be our next step,” explains Wrench. “As I grow older, I don’t know if, despite the pull of the mountain village community, my body really wants the discomfort of a minor trek down 60 metres of hill path in pitch dark just to go the lavatory at night.
“But it feels like if we have to move from our beloved roundhouse, the path, for me at least, will lead to northern Spain.”

Dec 02, still standing.  View thru willow in SE


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