Update April 15: Direct action over Easter weekend saves the Roundhouse [Photos and ReportsOver Easter, sympathisers from across England and Wales, are converging on the Pembrokeshire National Park to protest at the ordered demolition of Tony Wrench's roundhouse (see previous feature) and the double standards displayed by the planning authority who have given outline permission for a Bluestones holiday centre in the park, consisting of 340 log cabins imported from Eastern Europe, and 60 studio flats.
The protesters plan to occupy land in the Park, erect another turf-roofed roundhouse, and to hold an "Ideal Low Impact Home Exhibition" (see info).
See The Land Is Ours
Please come along during Easter 2004 to help save Tony's roundhouse
WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT TONY WRENCH'S ROUNDHOUSE?
Tony Wrench built his house at Brithdir Mawr, the farm community where he and his partner Jane Faith live and work, in 1997. It is constructed out of local Douglas Fir poles, logs and the earth from the farm and recycled elements such as windows and tyres. It is highly insulated by the earth and renewably powered and heated, with wood and solar energy. Its cost was minimal, since many of the materials were free, and it was self built. The landscape impact (the site is in a national park( is minimal since the turf roof and cordwood (stacked log) walls are from the surrounding land. The building was not discovered by the planners for two years, and then only when a survey plane noticed the reflection of a solar panel.
WHY MUST HE DEMOLISH IT?
The dwelling has twice been refused planning permission by the local authority, and lost a planning appeal in 2002. The local authority has imposed an enforcement notice ordering its demolition, and a court has already imposed fines, totalling Â£1000, for non-compliance.
WHY WAS THE HOUSE REFUSED PLANNING PERMISSION?
The dwelling does not conform with rigid interpretation of planning policy. Throughout Wales and England new dwellings are only permitted in the countryside for a very small number of exceptional reasons. One of these exceptions — the only one which might apply to Tony's house — is for agri The Inspector also viewed that the house had a harmful impact upon the landscape. In our view, it is hard to imagine a house that would have less landscape impact than this one.
ARE THE LOCAL AUTHORITY OBLIGED TO CARRY OUT ENFORCEMENT?
No they are not. Enforcement is entirely at the discretion of the local authority, and the Government advises that it should be prioritised for cases where there is harm to public interest. The fact that there are low impact housing policies in the pipeline for Pembrokeshire, and possibly for Wales as a whole. Many people consider that the planning authority is being unnecessarily rigid, or acting vindictively in this case.
WHY ARE MANY MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC OUTRAGED THAT THE HOUSE MUST BE DEMOLISHED?
There are two main reasons. Firstly the house is a pioneering example of low impact sustainable affordable housing. Tony had so many inquiries from people about how it was built that he wrote a book (Building a Low Impact Roundhouse, Permanent Publications, 2001) which has so far sold 2,500 copies. Secondly, there are many other people in Wales and England who face the same planning problems as Tony and Jane. For them, Tony's house has become a symbol. A survey conducted by BBC's Country File resulted in 29,500 writing in in support of the roundhouse, and only 2,500 in favour of demolition.
LOW IMPACT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE UK
HOW MANY OTHER PEOPLE IN THE UK FACE SIMILAR PROBLEMS?
Chapter 7 is an organization which provides free planning advice over the telephone to people like Tony Wrench. We deal with about 500 enquiries each year. Some of these people have low impact eco-homes, like Tony's, and some live in shacks or caravans. The majority live in the countryside because they carry out agriculture, forestry, conservation work or some other activity on the land — usually on their own smallholding — but t We estimate that at least 10,000 people in England and Wales (not counting Travellers and Gypsies) are living in low impact homes or caravans without planning permission, and are at risk of being evicted from their homes. We have documented this in our report Sustainable Homes and Livelihoods, (2003) which contains 80 short case histories.
WHY DO SO MANY PEOPLE LIVE IN HOMES WITHOUT PLANNING PERMISSION?
Because the planning system does not provide for their needs. The planning system is supposed to formulate policies which provide for people's needs in ways that do not cause environmental damage or harm the public interest. The planning system currently does not recognize that there is a considerable number of people who want to live a low impact, sustainable lifestyle on land in the countryside, and provides no planning policies to meet these people's needs We also view that the 10,000 or so people who are presently living in homes without planning permission are the tip of the iceberg. There is increasing demand for a sustainable rural lifestyle. For every person who is currently living in a home without planning permission, there are several more who would like to.
WHAT ARE LOW IMPACT DWELLINGS?
Low impact dwellings are houses which have a very minimal or a benign impact upon the environment, and therefore could reasonably be allowed in locations where conventional dwellings would not be permitted. A handful of local authorities (South Somerset, Milton Keynes, Oxford) have policies for low impact development, and Pembrokeshire policy planners have a policy in the pipeline.
WHAT IS THE BLUESTONES DEVELOPMENT?
It is a large tourist development, most of it sited in the National Park, consisting of 340 prefabricated wooden cabins, 60 holiday flats, a 'Snowdome' a 'Waterworld' and a sports centre. It is being developed by a consortium, led by William Macnamara, and Alfred McAlpine. It has been given outline planning permission by the planning committee of the national park, although the officers recommended against it. Seven Pembrokeshire county councillors who are also on the National Park's planning committee voted in favour of Bluestones. The County Council has invested a soft loan of £1 million in Bluestones.
WHY HAVE THE LAND IS OURS FOCUSSED ATTENTION UPON BLUESTONES?
We draw attention to Bluestones because it highlights the the double standards of the planning authority. The Bluestones project is a major development. If completed it will be the third largest settlement in the National Park, after Tenby and Saundersfoot. Bluestones is in conflict with national park planning policies at least as much as Tony Wrench's roundhouse, and is of far higher impact. Yet Bluestones is allowed while the roundhouse is refused.
The Bluestones decision is also symptomatic of double standards within the planning system nationally. Planning permission is regularly given for corporate schemes involving large numbers of holiday cabins, often in designated areas. But when a local person wants to live in an affordable wooden cabin on their own land they are almost invariably refused permission. For example, in 1995, within a space of two months, Deputy Judge Nigel Macleod QC, allowed an appeal for 48 holiday chalets on green belt in the New Forest, and yet refused an appeal for seven low impact dwellings on undesignated land at Tinkers Bubble, an agricultural community in Somerset.