Rhiw Las

Last weekend was a busy one! As well as going to Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust I joined the Pembrokeshire Permaculture Group on a visit to Rhiw Las on Sunday to see the straw bale house Chris & Erica Thompson are building as part of their One Planet Development.

One Planet Development (usually shortened to OPD) is a planning system which is, I believe, unique to Wales. It was pioneered by the group who formed the Lammas eco-village just a few miles from here in the next valley and then established as a national framework. Although there have been tweaks to the regulations in the light of experience the basics remain the same. An individual, couple, family or group can acquire a few acres of agricultural land which has no dwelling on it and apply for planning permission to live on it within certain constraints.  The house must be low-impact, they must have a plan to meet at least a certain (high) percentage of their assumed needs from the land within 5 years, and be prepared to submit detailed annual returns to demonstrate progress towards this goal. If they fail to meet the percentage in the time frame then permission may be withdrawn. It allows people like Chris and Erica to buy a piece of land at the agricultural price which is much lower than land with planning consent and, particularly if they are willing and able to do a significant amount of the work themselves, build a home fairly cheaply. But of course there is a risk that planning will be refused or later rescinded if the business fails. Often there is an agricultural tie which affects the resale value of the property and plot – not a consideration if what you want is a home but not a rock solid investment. I have great admiration for those who are willing to negotiate the planning process then put blood sweat and tears into building a home and holding with no guarantees of success.

Another of the houses goes up

Rhiw Las is a smallholding of about 20 acres which was bought by 4 households. It was then divided into 4 freehold strips running down the hill from the road so that each has a road frontage, 2 steeply sloping sections and a flatter bit in the middle where, not surprisingly, each has decided to site their house! The trackway and an existing barn are owned by a company with 8 shareholders – the 8 resident adults but to avoid possible squabbles the barn has been divided into 4 units. Each household has chosen to build their home in a different way and each will run a different business and report separately. They hope this structure will help them avoid some of the disputes which have arisen on previous developments. Groups are tricky things and typically go through a stage of ‘storming’ when assumptions about each other prove incorrect and it is often painful. By living as neighbours but otherwise independently the folk of Rhiw Las hope to minimise the friction between them.

Lime render makes the straw waterproof

Erica and Chris have chosen to build a roundwood timber framed, strawbale house. Other OPD families have, in the past, chosen to build a roundhouse or other small building to live in temporarily whilst they establish their livelihood and build a ‘forever’ home – only to realise that by the time the ‘forever’ home gets built their children will have left home and it will be too big! So all 4 households in this group have built a permanent home straight away and will then concentrate on establishing their businesses. Since the Thompsons have a toddler, Tanwen, they felt that a caravan or yurt would be untenable and are renting a house in Carmarthen whilst the building goes up. It is a great incentive to get on with it!


The beautiful roundwood frame was made off site then erected onto pad foundations by Ty Pren, a local firm with an excellent reputation for this kind of work and who source the timber locally.  That provides the structural support for the roof meaning the strawbale walls do not have to be load bearing. They are lime rendered externally and will be clay plastered internally. It had been hoped that clay dug when the site was levelled could be used but it may be too stoney. A large stove will heat the double height living space and its back boiler will feed radiators and a hot water tank.

Outside there is a newly planted apple orchard and there will be a veg patch (home grown produce counts towards the percentage of needs in the return) and bees. Other businesses on the whole site will include a micro-dairy, musical instrument making from home-grown timber and forest schooling.

After the usual bring and share lunch – delicious as always – we cleared a polytunnel left behind by the previous owners of the holding. It had been used to store straw bales, roofing sheets and other building stuff in relatively dry conditions but will be planted up this year once a new cover has been put on. With lots of people helping we made short work of the job. Whether Chris and Erica will ever find the things again remains to be seen!


I took the second Bara Claddu I had baked and it was very popular. I keep being asked for the recipes at these events and Cara suggested I put them in my posts for everyone so here goes.

BARA CLADDU – My daughter’s recipe

Line a 2lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper and pre-heat the oven to 160 deg.

240g plain flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

240 g sugar white, demerara, muscovado or any combination

1 teaspoon mixed spice

1 egg beaten

milk for mixing

Mix all the dry ingredients together then add the egg. mix and add milk a bit at a time until it all comes together to cake batter consistency. Bake for 1 – 1 1/4 hours until the top is nicely browned and a skewer comes out clean. Once cool serve sliced and buttered. It freezes well.


3 thoughts on “Rhiw Las

  1. The Snail of Happiness February 9, 2018 / 5:28 pm

    How interesting… and a micro-dairy on one of the plots too… my mind, as often happens, turns to cheese-making.


  2. itwasjudith February 9, 2018 / 5:32 pm

    Such an interesting project, thank you for sharing!


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