Something special is happening in Wales. The country is using legislation to shift itself into a very different direction from England.

The Welsh Government has said that it wants to be more sustainable, by reducing its ‘ecological footprint’ to a level that’s fair compared to the rest of the planet’s population and resources.

Spearheading this approach for individuals and households is the notion of One Planet Development.

What is One Planet Development?

Through its Technical Advice Note 6 (TAN 6) and Planning Policy Wales (PPW) the Welsh Government sets out land use planning policies to support sustainable communities. Planning Policy Wales (2016) says:

4.5.11 Closely aligned to the commitments to tackling climate change is the Welsh Government’s approach to reducing the ecological footprint of Wales. Our Sustainable Development Scheme sets out an ambition for Wales to use its fair share of the Earth’s resources, where, within a generation, our ecological footprint is reduced to the global average availability of resources – 1.88 global hectares per person. The current footprint shows that, if everyone on the Earth lived as we do, we would use 2.7 planets worth of resources. Reducing Wales’ ecological footprint will require a large reduction in the total resources used to sustain our lifestyles. The policy and guidance set out here in PPW will make an important contribution to reducing our footprint, whilst delivering sustainable development and tackling climate change.

Section 4 of TAN 6 defines One Planet Developments (OPD) as being exemplars of sustainable development:

4.15.2 One Planet Developments may take a number of forms. They can either be single homes, co-operative communities or larger settlements. They may be located within or adjacent to existing settlements, or be situated in the open countryside.

In other words, anywhere. However planning guidance only exists currently for OPD in the open countryside.

What to do

To be able to build a house in the open countryside and lead the “good life” you would have to submit a planning application for the land in question that you own. In this you would explain in detail how you will, five years after having received planning permission, meet the following criteria:

  1. Achieve an ecological footprint of 1.88 global hectares the person; using the Welsh Government’s Excel-based calculator on its website
  2. Create a home that is zero carbon over its lifetime
  3. Improve the quality of the land, landscape and natural habitats
  4. Integrate with the local community
  5. Minimise the carbon impact of your travel
  6. Have a sustainable water supply
  7. Produce almost zero waste (including ecological waste treatment that returns nutrients to the soil)
  8. Supply your own 100% renewable energy
  9. Over a reasonable length of time (no more than 5 years), provide for 65% of your minimum needs*, through growing your own food and from the proceeds of your land-based business.

We support the introduction of guidance for making both new and existing settlements and planning submissions satisfy similar criteria in order to be measurably ‘one planet’.

David Thorpe's book about the One Planet Development policy in action

We run courses on how to look for suitable land and write your management plan based on the manual The One Planet Life, which is a ‘big book of everything’ for sustainable living.

Your management plan will describe the land-based businesses you will run to support yourselves.

When you have secured planning permission you have five years to meet the criteria. You can then use the ‘one planet’ label on your products. This has been developed for marketing purposes by the One Planet Council. Here is an example of it in use:

*  Minimum needs include: Council tax, food, clothing, wi-fi/telecoms, travel. Typically 65% is between £1000 and £2000 per person per year.

Measurable and provable

The great advantage of this approach, and its ‘unique selling point’, is that it is measurable and provable. There is no doubt that your life will be more sustainable.

Above: a screenshot of the Excel-based calculator. It uses your expenditure as a way of working out your ecological footprint (click to enlarge).

Table showing example of Minimum needs reporting for one planet development

You will also have to report on your progress so that the planning officers can see that you are doing what you say you are going to do. Above is an example of a minimum needs calculation for a four person household showing how over five years the total of ‘minimum needs’ has reduced to at least 65% of what it was at the start, mainly because the household is growing its own food.

You can download the planning guidance and the ecological footprint calculator from the Welsh Government’s website here.

What is an ecological footprint?

The global population is now 7.5 bn. and is predicted to peak at 11.2 bn by 2100 (UN). But the ability of our lovely planet Earth to support life depends on us staying within a number of ‘planetary boundaries’. Humanity passed this ‘biocapacity’ limit way back in the early 1970s. Our collective footprint has been rising ever since:

As defined by the environmental charity WWF, there are nine ‘planetary boundaries’. Every couple of years WWF produces a brilliant survey called a ‘Living Planet Report’. The last one, in 2016, said that of these nine limits to growth, four have passed safe levels: climate change, biosphere integrity, biogeochemical flows and land-system change.

WWF says that humanity now needs the regenerative capacity of 1.6 Earths to provide goods and services we collectively use. But the per capita ecological footprint of high-income nations dwarfs low- and middle-income countries. What will happen if 11.2bn people want North America’s standard of living?

Ecological footprint is measured in ‘global hectares’. It divides the ‘biocapacity’ of land (supply) by human consumption levels (demand). The biocapacity is a measure of the pollution land can absorb and the services and resources it can provide. The demand is the population level times the consumption level. The result is an average of hectares per person, if it were distributed equally between everyone alive. A hectare is 2.47 acres or 10,000 square metres or 0.01 square kilometers.

According to the last report, the fair level is 1.7 global hectares per person.

Not very much. It is the level of the world’s lowest consuming countries, in Africa and the Indian sub-continent.

So we in the UK must move from an average level of three times this (as if, if everyone were living this way, we had three planet Earths – if only!) to one.

Back to Wales

To go back to Wales, the law there contains a goal to make this shift in one generation.

One Planet Living is about showing the way. It is the start of an immense and difficult journey.

  • To buy The One Planet Life, click here.
  • Workshops and courses are listed here.