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How a young family’s ‘One Planet’ home won an epic planning battle

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Charlie and Meg hobbit home in Pembrokeshire, Wales

The house that Charlie and Meg built. Their ‘hobbit home’, rescued from demolition, in Pembrokeshire, Wales

A zero energy roundhouse, built by a young family, has been saved from demolition following an appeal to the local planning authority. Their campaign to save their house touched the hearts of thousands, who wrote in support, but this wasn’t what saved the home.

In 2012, Megan Williams and Charlie Hague built their own form of sustainable development from scratch using only natural and local materials on Charlie’s parents’ land without planning permission. Then the home was discovered and they had to apply for retrospective planning permission. But this was turned down.

Megan Williams and Charlie Hague with their child

Megan Williams and Charlie Hague with their child

The house is in rural Wales where a unique planning rule applies, called One Planet Development. Under this rule, homes may be built on rural land (normally opposed) provided that the owners undertake land-based activities involving resources grown, reared or occurring naturally on the site, which enable them to “provide for the minimum needs of the inhabitants in terms of income, food, energy and waste assimilation over a period of no more than five years from the commencement of work on the site”.

(Work is underway by the One Planet Council, set up to promote such developments, to define the nature of one planet developments in peri-urban and urban situations.)

Charlie and Megan’s first attempt to gain planning permission was under this policy, but their plan was not robust enough. One of the sticking points was to do with the impact of transport.

Then, with the help of the One Planet Council in constructing a more detailed and focussed management plan, they reapplied, and were successful.

A management plan is required at planning application stage for this type of planning application in order to show how the householders’ needs will be met, and to demonstrate the economic feasibility of the businesses. If permission is granted, reporting is required over the five year period to ensure compliance.

The management plan should also show how the owners will take measures to reduce their ecological footprint to a specified level, enhance biodiversity, use renewable energy, deal with water sourcing and sewerage, improve soil conditions and curate any cultural heritage.

Zero carbon homes

One Planet Development (OPD) especially requires the construction of simple, well functioning dwellings tied into sustainable land management. Homes are required to have minimal visual and environmental impact. They must be constructed from sustainable or recycled materials, locally sourced where possible.

They don’t have to look like a hobbit house, but can be of any design preferred by the owners, as long as they meet Building Regulations and are ‘net zero’ energy users, requiring the use of renewable energy. Innovation and different styles of construction are encouraged as long as they comply with the planning standards.

The necessity for self-build and the resourceful use of materials means that they are, so far, less expensive than the average home, even when constructed to a conventionally accepted standard. Charlie and Meg’s home cost around £12,000.

The couple had gained support from people all over the world for their eco-house and their Facebook page ‘Charlie and Meg’s Roundhouse’ has over 14,000 likes. The news of their success made several of the national UK papers.

The couple issued a statement saying that: “The news is slowly sinking in. We really appreciate all the support. Now we can put our energy into planning our wedding in September.”

One of the land-based activities the couple is undertaking is making sculptures out of timber grown on site. Charlie said: “The costs of planning have left us high and dry so if anyone wants to help by buying a carving it would be much appreciated.”

Sculpture by Megan Williams and Charlie Hague

Sculpture by Megan Williams and Charlie Hague.

The success of One Planet Development policy

This is the fifth planning application to be approved under this policy in Wales, which is gaining momentum thanks to the work of the One Planet Council.

Earlier this year, Wales’ first planned eco-village, begun over five years ago, conclusively proved with its five-year report that upland Permaculture smallholdings can be far more productive and sustainable than previously assumed.

Lammas, as it is known, was granted planning permission by Pembrokeshire County Council under an earlier and more stringent policy, known as ‘Policy 52’. In this case criteria included that at least 75 per cent of basic household needs should be met by means of land-based activities, a challenging target to say the least.

The eco-village has now produced its fifth annual report, a significant milestone. The results document a resounding success. They prove once and for all that, with dedication and hard work even this type of land under these not easy types of conditions can be far more productive than is usually expected and support far more people living on the land.

According to one of the eco-village’s founders, Tao Wimbush: “We had to meet 75% of our household needs from land-based activity. We have met 89%.”

Former Welsh Environment Minister, Jane Davidson, said: “The introduction of One Planet Developments into national planning guidance in Wales through Technical Advisory Note 6: Planning for Sustainable Rural Communities … owes a great deal to the negative experience of the planning system by the families at Lammas”.

The Lammas site generated approx. £93,000 from land-based activity in 2014, which compares very favourably to the productivity beforehand – when it was typical sheep grazing pasture – of between £2,500 and £3,500 per year through the sale of lamb, and supporting nine families where previously it supported one.

Melissa Holloway in her polytunnel

Lammas resident Melissa Holloway in her polytunnel with produce intended for sale. Much, but by no means all, of the produce on the land is grown in polytunnels and greenhouses.

The total household need for the nine households was calculated to be approximately £104,000 in 2014. About half of this (£52,000) was met directly through growing food, producing energy, and so on, about £27,000 of land-based produce was sold, and around £14,000 was generated through educational/land-based activities.

Each of the nine families manages around five acres of what was previously one single sheep farm, comprising mostly upland pasture but with some 15 acres of mixed woodland which is managed communally.

Hoppi Wimbush  flower garden

Hoppi Wimbush’s garden where she grows flowers for her cut flower business.

It’s marginal land; sceptics said at the time of the planning application that it couldn’t support anything but sheep. It’s not been easy for the residents but these naysayers have been proved definitively wrong.

In their five acres the occupants can do exactly as they wish, and the variety of produce being squeezed from this land, once the soil has been enriched through natural, organic means, is astonishing for such a location.

In this video, Hoppi Wimbush prepares the milk just obtained from the cow belonging to herself and her husband, before setting off to delver it by husky, as she does almost every morning.

The residents came from all walks of life. Each family paid between £35,000 and £40,000 for their plot and then had to finance their buildings, equipment, livestock, seeds and saplings.

Disclosure: I am a patron of the One Planet Council, which was founded during the process of writing my book, One Planet Life, in which the above projects and many more are considered, and which may be viewed as a manual for one planet living.

David Thorpe is the author of:

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