Sustainable Living: Law of the Land These People All Own a Little Piece of Rural Britain, and Their Impact on the Environment Is Minimal. So Why Are They Being Forced out? by Charlie Ryrie. Photographs by Nick Cobbing
Ryrie, Charlie, The Independent (London, England)
Ownership of a piece of land in rural Britain does not give you an automatic right to live there, even if your home is no more than a humble homemade shelter. In 1947 the Town and Country Planning Act established a framework for controlling all forms of rural residential development, and this act remains the basic reference point for all planning law. But this could be changing. A new term, "low-impact housing", has been creeping into planning law, and it is having an increasingly high impact on policy makers. Around Britain communities are challenging planning legislation by fighting to live on their land. Following protracted legal battles, some of them have been granted temporary residential rights, but others are still battling.
The new breed of development tends to look unconventional, even uncomfortable, but the settlements have a low impact on the environment, seeking to improve their surroundings rather than exploiting resources. Homes are sited to blend in with the landscape and, ideally, are built from local materials. Sun, wind and water are the chosen means of power, rather than fossil fuels. Waste is turned into a resource, land is managed to sustain and improve the local ecology, and wildlife is protected. Some low-impact developments are designed to be temporary; all are designed to keep car use and traffic to a minimum.
However laudable these principles, planners remain wary. Planning permission is granted not on the basis of what someone wishes to build, but where they wish to build it, and although councils nod towards objectives of sustainability, there is as yet no statutory provision to make environmental impact a basis for any planning decisions. Campaigners for low-impact development are arguing for a new category of land use, one in which individuals or communities erect buildings which conserve resources, enhance the environment and where residents live sustainably. Their plans for sustainability would be an integral part of the planning permission application.
Some planning officers see this sort of low-cost housing as a form of rural regeneration; others remain fearful that any loosening of legislation could lead to green fields disappearing under housing estates. The very idea of alternative lifestyles raises the spectre of hordes of travellers in old buses, with antisocial behaviour the norm. Yet low-impact dwellers, by definition, want to respect the land and their environment - and that includes the people around them.
Captions: Brithdin Mawr
When Julian and Emma Orbach bought Brithdin Mawr, a 165-acre farm and farmhouse on the edge of the Pembroke National Park, the land was degraded and buildings derelict. Six years later, pasture, woodland and wildlife are flourishing; buildings have been renovated and gardens are productive.
Eleven adults and five children live and work here, managing the land, growing food and using wood for building, fuel and to make bowls, furniture and charcoal. Horses have replaced a tractor. Power comes from a windmill, a water wheel and solar panels. "We want every aspect of living to be sustainable," explains Emma, "not just the way we use the land, but also the way people work and live together."
The Orbachs obtained planning permission to renovate the farmhouse and for one building, for hostel accommodation, but none was sought for further development, which is where problems arose. While some community members live in the farm buildings, others have built homes from local materials. Tony Wrench's turf-roofed, wooden round house (left, top) lies in the valley; Letty Rowan's wooden, shingled dome in the productive circular garden. These and other structures, including a store built from straw bales and a turf-roofed animal shelter, are currently threatened with the bulldozer after a series of enforcement orders issued by Pembrokeshire Coast National …
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Publication information: Article title: Sustainable Living: Law of the Land These People All Own a Little Piece of Rural Britain, and Their Impact on the Environment Is Minimal. So Why Are They Being Forced out? by Charlie Ryrie. Photographs by Nick Cobbing. Contributors: Ryrie, Charlie - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: September 18, 1999. Page number: 36. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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