Forty years ago John and I lived in Mid Wales with 2 very small children and a dream. We wanted to sell the small terraced cottage we had lovingly renovated (the details provided by the estate agent boasted that the sitting room was ‘with power socket’ and the only tap was a cold one on the kitchen wall!) and move somewhere more rural with a bigger garden. We wanted to grow more of our own food, keep a few hens and maybe have bees or a pig. We subscribed to a magazine called ‘Practical Self Sufficiency’ and although we were a bit more realistic than some of the contributors and correspondents we certainly wanted to be more self sufficient than we were.
The problem, of course, was money. We could not afford a house (however dilapidated) with a large garden even in an area where prices were relatively low. If we sold our house and bought a piece of agricultural land there was no hope of getting planning permission. It was to be many years before we had built up enough capital to be able to buy this place (another renovation project) and later add some more land to the original plot.
If we were a young family now we would have a much better chance thanks to an innovative Planning initiative unique to Wales – One Planet Development. Anyone who owns a small parcel of agricultural land can apply for permission to build a house and live on it. Now before you start thinking this is a cushy option and begin to design your new holiday home let me tell you that this planning option is not for the faint hearted! It comes with many conditions!
this patch of over-grazed sheep field is the plot which Simon and Jasmine Dale acquired as part of the Lammas eco-village.
Firstly the dwelling has to be ‘zero carbon’ using predominantly local, natural materials. Many are very beautiful and have been lovingly crafted by their owners to keep costs down but the whole process is a far cry from buying a set of plans from a book and getting a builder to put the house up.
This is the house they built to live in with their 2 children whilst they built their ‘forever’ home. Sadly shortly before that was completed it burnt down on New year’s day this year.
Secondly the applicants must submit a detailed plan of how they will earn a living from the land. Within 5 years at least 30 % of their food must be grown or reared on site and the rest of their basic needs must be met from the income they generate from it. All this requires them to keep detailed records and make annual returns of all their income and spending. By putting the figures into a carbon footprint calculator they also demonstrate that they are progressing towards the goal of only using their fair share of the planet’s resources. As an exercise, and out of interest, I have just finished recording the figures for myself for a year though I have yet to enter them into the calculator. It was quite onerous to record all my spending (masses of till receipts and post it notes with records of things like parking fees) and allocate it to the required categories. My income comes mostly from my pension but having been self-employed in the past I know how much time it takes to keep track of that.
The garden they made to meet the planning requirements. The greenhouses were bought second hand and Simon managed to join them end to end down the slope. The intention was to feed the warmed air by convection into the house.
All photos by jasmine Dale reproduced with permission
The site must use 100% renewable energy (any not generated on site being bought out of that land based income) and applicants must take responsibility for most of their waste including water and sewerage. They have to show how they will minimise the use of fossil fuel run vehicles. And that they have considered the impact of their development (positive and negative) on the local community, landscape and wildlife big and small.
Because some of the pioneers of this new policy were the people who built Lammas eco-village (read more about them here ) just over the hill from me, this area has become a hotspot for OPD. They are no country bumpkins. Highly intelligent, often highly educated and always highly motivated they know exactly what they are letting themselves in for. Often they have given up good careers in cities because the lifestyle did not suit them. They are tech savvy but happy to live simply. And they have organised themselves to provide support, advice and help to each other. They use their plots intensively to meet the planning criteria, work hard and problem solve creatively. If I was 40 years younger…