Saturday, 27 September 2008

Eco Roundhouse in Wales finally gets permission

Tony Wrench: the creator of a unique roundhouse was finally granted planning permission. Last week saw a flurry of headlines about the surprising reprieve for Wrench's eco home. Now, those who argue that similar low-impact developments may be the only sustainable eco-towns of the future hope that the decision could change our archaic planning rules for ever.

'Brithdir Mawr low impact development is officially approved. At the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Development Management Committee on Monday September 15th, Members considered an application at Brithdir Mawr for a low impact settlement, including the original roundhouse owned by Tony Wrench. They resolved to grant temporary consent for three years. This is the first application of its kind in the National Park that has been approved since the adoption of the Authority’s policy on low impact development.'

After a long struggle with the authorities, Tony got retrospective approval for his home built in a valley in south-west Wales, via an unusual planning policy experiment in Pembrokeshire. County council and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park planners agreed to allow for low-impact developments on rural land where normal houses would not be considered, as long as they met stringent environmental, economic and social criteria. Without this planning guidance, known as Policy 52, Tony would never have been allowed to keep his roundhouse. He hopes his victory will inspire the burgeoning Transition Town movement, where communities from Totnes to Tring are seeking to drastically reduce carbon emissions and find alternatives to oil consumption, to petition their councils for a similar policy.

Another project, Lammas, hasn't had the same luck. Its a genuine eco-village of nine carbon neutral homes and smallholdings on 76 acres of mixed pasture and woodland hailed as "inspiring" by a member of the Design Commission for Wales. The brainchild of carpenter Paul Wimbush, the proposals were meticulously costed and showed how residents would not need electricity or water from the grid, but would pay their taxes, run educational courses and make a positive contribution to mainstream society. Despite this, Lammas was rejected on technical grounds that included a conventional agricultural assessment suggesting the community could not meet 75% of its basic needs from the land, as Policy 52 demands. They will be appealing.

So far, almost all low-impact housing has gained planning permission retrospectively, and on appeal, after long confrontations. Until a project can be recognised under normal planning avenues, low-impact homes will remain the preserve of activists.

Simon Fairlie, editor of the Land magazine, has inspired much of the low-impact movement in Britain, agrees that the planning system does not allow ordinary people to take up low-impact homes. "There is a huge desire from people who want to downsize, who want a connection with the land, who also need affordable housing and are capable of building their own home at no cost to the taxpayer," he says. "It's daft that the planning system isn't beginning to think about providing for these people."
There is also a book "Building a Low Impact Roundhouse" by Tony Wrench

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