Chapter 7 News
No 12 Spring 2003
The Urban/Rural Divide
Bits and Pieces
Pigs and Planning
The Urban Rural Divide
KJ Moon, writes: “Why don’t you cover more urban issues; team up with squatters network etc? You seem to be re-affirming the urban/rural divide.” This is a good question and deserves an attentive response.
Chapter 7 emerged out of a small bunch of people called the Rural Planning Group formed to Defining Rural Sustainability which provided criteria for sustainable low impact developments in the countryside. We consciously got rid of the original name in order to take on wider and urban issues.
Chapter 7′ s main objective was and still is to advocate a proactive DIY approach by supporting people putting forward sustainable and affordable developments and planning proposals. We do not focus upon opposing ghastly unsustainable developments, because there are other organizations who do that.
One of our main aims was to extend the direct action approach to the planning system exemplified both in the “P ure Genius” squat at Guinness’s Gargoyle Wharf in Wandsworth, and the creation of new villages at places like Kings Hill and Tinkers Bubble. We wanted to support urban groups who were putting forward alternative planning proposals, and to further the idea that squatters could add substance to urban land and property occupations by backing them up with planning applications.
In the early issues of C7 News we carried a number of articles on urban issues – for example covering the alternative proposal made by BUDD in Brighton, the Coin Street coup, the brilliant things achieved by the Exodus collective in Luton, and a critical analysis of the corporate rhetoric which tainted the Bed-Zed project when it was unveiled.
The reason that we have carried less urban coverage in recent issues, is that it is simply not coming in. Bed-Zed has delivered but people power hasn’t – or if it has we are not hearing about it. The editors, Jyoti and Simon, both live in the countryside, and we have no first hand knowledge of what is happening in the city. Every so often we have a useful discussion with an urban person about development and regenera tion issues in their city and we ask them for news or articles, but very little comes back to us.
Unfortunately, this “ruralization” is self-reinforcing. The more Chapter 7 News covers rural issues, the more rural its readership becomes, and the more rurally-orientated the feedback that we get from our readers.
This is not the aim of the editors. We would like to see more urban and suburban issues covered in Chapter 7 News. But because we live in the countryside „ and because the rural issues on their own give us quite enough work – we are not in a position to do much about it.
If Chapter 7 is to cover urban issues, its up to you townies to send us in material. If there is someone sharp and competent out there who would be interested in becoming urban editor for the magazine, then give us a ring.
Earth and Oil
The other point that KJ Moon raises in his letter is that we “seem to be reaffirming the urban/rural divide.”
Yes we do, and we do so firstly because there are powerful forces set on muddying the distinction between town and country. We trumpet rural distinctiveness because the more this is undervalued, the easier it becomes for planners and environmentalists to argue that nobody needs to live in the country and everybody (except the wealthy) should be herded into towns.
Why do we want to live in the country? Mainly because the countryside offers access to land, and to its resources. If you have land you can build your shelter, grow your food, harvest your water, gather your fuel, generate your energy, provide your entertainment, recycle your waste and bury your dead. This doesnÍt mean that you have to be entirely self-sufficient; it means that you can choose how independently you live.
People who live in cities donÍt have that choice. Beyond what can be achieved in a small garden or allotment, everything must be bought. City dwellers are condemned to engage ( enthusiastically, compliantly or recalcitrantl y) with the global economy for nearly every material item they consume.
The distinction goes further than this. Rural land-based resources, except for mineral deposits, are renewable, the fruit of the elements: earth, sun, rain, wind. The commodities provided by the urban economy come from land somewhere, but one mineral resource underwrites all the rest: oil provides the energy and the transport; oil provides the chemicals and plastics; oil provides the nutrients for food and fibres; and oil provides the collateral for ever-increasing levels of debt. The more oil gets drilled, the more dollar bills the US can print without them losing value. If the oil economy collapses, the cities collapse, and that of course is why Texas oilmen have led us into war in the Middle East. The rural/urban divide reflects the global transition from diverse land-based peasant cultures to a monolithic oil-dependent market economy. In the UK, the urban economy has now permeated the countryside to such an extent that many people have forgotten that there ever was, or ever could be, such a thing as a sustainable, renewable land-based economy.
The reason why Chapter 7 reaffirms the urban /rural divide is to keep these distinctions alive. Where does this leave urban people? That is for them to decide, but we would like to see city-dwellers examining their footprint upon the land, understanding and making use of the land and water immediately around them, reclaiming space from the motor car, converting offices into gardens, yards and workshops, getting back in touch with the earth beneath them. But maybe this is all a bit too much to ask.
Jyoti Fernandes reports on UK funded plans to clear 20 million peasants off their lands.
ñOf all of the poverties of the rich countries, one of the saddest is that the expense of housing makes it ever more difficult for young people to experience building. If we donÍt grow up building, we will never be fully at home in the act – or in our houses.îThe Book of Bamboo
I have recently returned to Chapter 7 after a short mission to the Deccan Plateau in Andhra Pradesh where 70 per cent of the population work in agriculture. About half of these are small farmers cultivating as little as two acres. The other half work as hired agricultural labourers for larger farmers.
I was working with farmers on a campaign to convince the UK Department for International Development to change its attitudes towards what constitutes development. DFID has committed £65 million to a plan called Vision 2020 which aims to convert the state of Andhra Pradesh over to industrialized agriculture oriented towards the export-economy.
The plan was drawn up by a right wing US consultancy called McKinsey, which boasts amongst its former employees William Hague and Jeffrey Skilling, the former head of ENRON. (McKinsey was also commissioned by the UK government, under shadowy circumstance, to write a report called Driving Productivity and Growth in the UK Economy, which concluded that planning regulations were discouraging
the location of go ahead international companies i n Britain, and which is thought to have had considerable influence over Stephen ByerÍs Green Paper on Planning.) The most controversial element of the plan is the land consolidation programmes it envisages. Vision 2020 expects, over the next two decades, to reduce the proportion of the population deriving its income from agriculture from seventy to forty percent, replacing them by machines, chemicals and GM crops. Not only would this deprive 20 million farmers of their livelihood, it would completely destroy the cultural fabric of the region. Once development agencies and corporations start to pull threads out of the cultural fabric, they will create more types of poverty than they could ever hope to predict.
The cultural agrarian traditions in the Deccan Plateau are very much alive. Villagers plough their fields with bullocks, weed their fields with hand tools, and grow a wide diversity of crops from seed that has been saved and adapted for generations to their environment. Life in the villages revolves around agriculture. Women spend their days tending fields alongside their children, the elderly join in with simple tasks. Nights are spent cooking the food they have grown. Festivals through out the year celebrate the passage of the seasons and the fertility of their land. Despite the fact that most of the villagers earn less than a £1 a day, people are genuinely proud of their skills as farmers.
Housebuilding is one of the many threads of life dependent on agriculture. Traditional houses in Andhra Pradesh are made from a mixture of earth, straw and cow dung. The thatching materials are by-products of the traditional crops. The houses are built by the villagers , with help from housebuilders and children, who mix the cob up with bare feet. Once built, they are brightly painted then garlanded with ears of grain. Modern concrete block housing is slowly creeping into India, but in this part of Andhra Pradesh the low-impact houses are still the norm.
The migrant agricultural labourers live in small bender and sugar-cane teepee camps. The wage labourers earn an appalling 20-30 pence for a days labour, but would rather have the work than no jobs at all.
All of the farmers and labourers that I spoke with were strongly opposed to the governmentsÍ plans to push th em out of their livelihoods. In Andhra Pradesh there are few jobs available for illiterate, low-cast people. When the farmers no longer have their land, they will move to the slums that encircle every major Indian city; Bombay already has 18 million people „ how many will it have in 2020?
The British government sees this mass clearance of the peasantry as a necessary step along the path of development. It describes the destruction of traditional agriculture as ñalleviating the peasants from centuries of toilî. But, as one of the women farmers stated, ñ we have chosen to develop our own forms of agriculture, based on our culture.î The farmers of the Deccan Plateau are very aware of the implications of a conversion to mechanised agriculture. They have formed widespread coalitions reflecting the interests of over 150 million small farmers. These coalitions have created grassroots land reform programmes to promote sustainable agriculture.
Last year a delegation of farmers visited the U.K. to confront DFID. They noticed the differences in the scale of farming and village life.The women shook their heads and clucked with disapproval at the state of village life in Britain. They were quick to understand why small farmers in Britain have to struggle against the flood of these imports; and the problems of living in a countryside , where community, family life and farming are no longer intimately linked.
Farmers in India may be poor but they do not have to fight for years to build their own homes. Every square inch of rural India is living, working countryside. The small farmers are now fighting a battle that many Chapter 7 readers will recognize „ a battle to preserve a way of life where housing is integrated with farming life.
To find out more about a campaign against Vision 2020 contact Jyoti at the Chapter 7 office.
The Welsh Low Impact Development Report
In 2001 the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), with support from the Welsh Assembly commissioned a report on Low Impact Development from a team headed by the University of the West of England (UWE). The University were given a four month deadline in which to research and write the 180 page report, which was completed in March last year. It then took the sponsors until December to vet the report; and then another three months until they eventually agreed, under pressure, that it could be, well not launched, but quietly released.
CCW and the Welsh Assembly may have been sitting upon the report for a year, but fortunately they donÍt seem to have left much of a bumprint on it. The reportÍs authors come out unequivocably in favour of Low Impact Development, which they say can deliver significant environmental and social benefits and modest economic benefits and „ which is quite unusual „ provides all three of these together, whereas so often there is a trade off between them.
Another, perhaps surprising, finding was that the number of Welsh speakers on the low impact sites was significantly higher than the Welsh average. Critics of low impact in Wales have often alleged that itÍs adherents tend to be English settlers rather than Welsh people.
UWE carried out a survey coverin g about 180 people on over 20 sites, and makes sustainability appraisals of five case studies, including Tony WrenchÍs house at Brithdir Mawr, and Chris and Lyn DixonÍs smallholding at Tir Penrhos Isaf.
The report recommends that:
´ Planning Policy Wales and development plans covering rural areas should contain policy for LIDs
´ Development plan policies should provide criteria which all proposed LIDs should meet; the criteria suggested are not dissimilar from the 15 criteria put forward in Defining Rural Sustainability.
´ Developments should be secured by planning obligations and where possible by vesting the land in a trust, co-op or similar.
´ Pemaculture design may be an important part of the overall site plan.
There is also a 24 page commentary on the implications of the Human Rights Act for LID, by Murray Hunt of Matri x Chambers. CCW and the Welsh Assembly seem to be reluctant to associate themselves with the report and will do little to publish it, so it is up to advocates of LID in Wales to get the report out, onto the desks of MPs, members of the Welsh Assembly, and planning departments. The report will soon be put up on Chapter7Ís website; until it is, contact us and we will e-mail you back a copy.
University of the West of England and Land Use Consultants, Low Impact Development „ Planning Policy and Practice, Countryside Council for Wales, December 1992.
Simon, together with, James Shorten, on of the authors of the Welsh Low Impact Development report recently gave a talk to about 100 planning inspectors at the Inspectorates annual training weekend at Warwick University. The event, which gathers together all of the countryÍs 350 planning inspectors was revealing.
Planning inspectors are solitary creatur es who habitually eat their lunch in a remote corner of the pub because theyÍre not allowed to talk to anyone involved in the appeal. When you tumble upon hundreds of them noisily jostling for beer at the Uni bar, its almost as exciting as David Attenborough discovering a flock of barn owls. Planning inspectors, the majority of whom are male, middle class, white-haired and white-skinned, undergo very rigorous training „ everything they do is ñmarked as if we were school children; to pass we have to get 90 per centî. Towards the end of their first year they are allowed to tackle written appeals, but it may be two years before they are given public inquiries. But senior inspectors still do written appeals.
There seemed to be general agreement that public inquiries are easier than hearings. Inquiries ñrun themselvesî, whereas in hearings you have to work hard to elicit the information. Inspectors specialize in certain kinds of appeals, and there is one section of the Inspectorate which does only enforcement appeals, and which is statistically more likely to encounter the sort of appeals which C7 News readers put forward.
It seems that while planning appeal inspectors focus on policy issues , enforcement appeal inspectors are more interested in finding a workable solution between the local authority and the appellant. They may, for example, dismiss your appeal on policy grounds, but in a way that allows you to proceed. It also suggests that if you have lost a planning appeal, this doesnÍt mean that all is lost at the enforcement appeal; which in turn suggests that it is probably better to get your planning appeal in before they put an enforcement order on, so that the planning appeal is heard separately from the enforcement appeal. This is certainly borne out in the case of Steward Wood, who were trounced by the Inspector at their planning inquiry, and then unexpectedly won at a written enforcement appeal.
Our presentation on low impact development seemed to have been well received. A high proprtion of the younger (under fifty) inspectors were present. The most notable audience response was when James stated that Planning Policy Wales was far more advanced than its English equivalent, and a warm ripple of agreement (one doesnÍt expect cheers from Inspectors) spread around the audience.
Planning Policy Wales lays down nine principles for sustainable development and 18 objectives, including climate control, renewable energy, the precautionary principle and the proximity principle, which emphasizes the value of local solutions. English planning policy lags a long way behind, and Inspectors clearl;y recognize that. The Inspectorate still acts as one body across England and Wales, even though English appeals are held under the authority of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister at Bristol, while Welsh appeals are under the authoity of the Welsh Assembly at Cardiff. Inspectors are thus aware both of the Welsh guidancxe and the English. With this in mind, we see nothing to lose in submitting the sustainabilty principles and objectives in Planning Policy Guidance Wales as evidence in English appeals, on the grounds that they are a more advanced definition of sustainability.
The Inspectorate is a peculiar institution- an academy offering a refuge for people who have made some headway in public life but who want to retreat from the fray and the corruption, whilst still retaining an influence. The most paradoxical thing about it is that although decisons at appeals are made by one person, the system is surprisingly democratic. Local planning committees are elected, and their decisions reflect dominant local poitical interests. Legal decisions are made according Acts of parliament which reflect the will of the majority, and we know what blunt instruments they can be. In between lies the Inspectorate, 350 inspectors, empowered, without any electoral mandate, to analyse the issues to a level of detail way beyond what elected local councillors or MPs have time to deal with. In 40 per cent of the cases they overturn what the elected councillors have decided. This is a fairl;y healthy response, for which we should be grateful.
Planning permission for the Hollies ecovillage in Ireland has been given at the third attempt. They have received permanent permission for two eco-homes, outline permission for two more, and permission to rebuild their study centre
. The HolliesÍ success creates an exciting pre cedent in Ireland for a ïthird wayÍ in Irish rural planning. The argument about rural housing is bitterly divided between rural regeneration types who believe ñone-off housesî (typically hacienda-style bungalows) will create a ñdynamic rural societyî and conservation lobby, who want to see all new houses should be in existing centres. The Hollies have now created a third option „ clustered low energy, low impact buildings, designed in sympathy with the landscape to create livelihoods for residents and the surrounding community. The residents of the Hollies hope that their ecovillage will prove to be the first of many such developments around the country.
They will soon begin work on cob and timber homes roofed with tiles made from recycled car tyres.
Steward Wood, Safe at Last
A High Court judge has upheld the planning permission granted to Steward Wood last year. The Dartmoor National Park Authority (ïDNPAî) was attempting to overturn the decision, but the judge ruled that the inspector was justified in finding that the sustainable project being carried out by t he people at Steward Wood was worthwhile. The folks at Steward Wood are greatly relieved to be able to get on with things and stop worrying about planning for a while.
The planning permission lasts for 5 years. It is mainly for the existing structures, but new structures can be erected with written permission from the DNPA. In the future, the members of the project hope that they will be able to establish better relations with the Park Authority. Comments from the authority after the case was over, seemed to indicate a basic willingness to work with them to further the projects aims.
It will be interested to see how this relationship changes over the next five years. In our experience as projects establish them selves, Local Authorities often move from opposition to support.
The Future of Ben LawÍs House
Virtually everybody except the Chapter 7 editors, it seems, saw the recent TV programme on Ben LawÍs woodland enterprise and house, and everyone thought it was brilliant. However, several people h ave expressed their concern that because it is a personal permission, the house would have to be dismantled if Ben wanted or had to give up the running of the holding, and that therefore he could not sell it on.
Although technically this is the case, in practice it is not actually like that. What would happen is that if Ben found a potential buyer, then that buyer would have to put in an application to the committee to vary the condition to allow them to occupy the building on the same terms as Ben „ in other words they would have to provide evidence that they were willing and capable of carrying on the enterprise.
This ought to be a good arrangement. Ben would not want to sell his land on to somebody who ran down the operation which he put so much work into building up; the local authority wouldnÍt want to see the home going into the hands of someone who ran down the business, claimed that it was unviable and got the forestry occupancy condition removed. So there shouldnÍt be a fundamental problem with this condition, though it would be safer if the right to pass it on to a bona fide forester were written into the condition. Its certainly better than a conventional occupancy condition which can be easily overturned.
There are a few worries. One is the amount of time the local authority might take to make a decision if there were an application from a prospective buyer. If the evidence were weak, or the council were awkward, then it might drag on. The local authority might have to deal with several applications from buyers who eventually pulled out. There could be a situation where a prospective buyer might want to place an option on the land contingent on getting planning permission, much as housing developers do. This is not necessarily a bad thing, apart from the wait.
Enforcement Fine Slashed
A man who was fined £10,000 with £2,000 costs in Leicester Crown Court for defying two enforcement notices ordering him and his wife to stop living in a caravan, has had the fines drastically reduced by a Criminal Court of Appeal Judge.
Mr Justice Mitting ruled that the man had limited means and that the fines were more severe than the case warranted. The manÍ s wife had severe senile dementia, and it was in her interest to go on living in the caravan.
The maximum fine for defying an enforcement order is £20,000; but in our experience first time fines are often around £300 and rarely over £1000; the hearing is usually in Magistrates Court. We are not sure if the man elected to go to Crown Court.
R. v Foxon, 24 March 2003.
Human Rights for Wealthy Non-Chicken Farmer
Readers of Issues 6 and 7, or of DIY Briefing no 9, may recollect an appeal in which a luxury house in the New Forest was allowed on human rights grounds. Permission had been given for a bungalow in connection with a chicken farm, but the appellant, a former night club owner, who sends his kids to private school, and admits he could afford a £259,000 house elsewhere, built a five bedroomed two-storey house allegedly worth £750,000 „ without having a single chicken on the property. He even agreed that what he had done was a ñshamî „ then subsequently claimed he didnÍt know what th e word meant.
The original inspectorÍs decision was quashed at High Court but now after a second appeal, the Secretary of State has awarded temporary agricultural permission for the house, on human rights grounds. The thinking behind the decision seems to be that it would be better to allow temporary permission for the luxury dwelling, than permanent permission for the original bungalow.
As far as we know this remains the only appeal where a ñsmallholderî has been allowed to keep a dwelling on Human Rights grounds. In every case we know involving poor but genuine smallholders, an Article 8 defence has not been accepted.
Jim Aplin and Hayley Moreland, who run a successful box scheme in Gloucestershire have to move their caravan off their land. Ann Morgan who for 15 years has operated a permaculture holding in a Somerset village has to move out of her mobile home. Yet here a patent scam artist, clearly not in need of affordable housing, is given the go ahead, under the Human Rights Act, by the Secretary of State.
New Forest DC, APP/B1 740/C/00/1050922
Test Case for Luxury House
In an unusual decision, an inspector has allowed the construction of a luxury dwelling in a garden on the banks of the river Test in Hampshire on the grounds that allowing people to live on site ñwould assist in the management of the river, improve nature conservation value and assist in maintaining the high quality landscape value.î The Inspector reasoned that ñthe owners would be able to operate sluice gates on the land to control the flow of part of the river and prevent the risk of flooding, while regulating river flows would also assist in supporting the salmon population. The owners would be more likely to maintain the garden to its presently high standard.î
Bearing in mind that the site was already a landscaped garden, rather than agricultural land, the decision will nevertheless be of interest to some of our readers. We get a number of of enquiries from people who want to get permission to live on land in the open countryside, not on the grounds that they derive a livelihood from it, but solely on the grounds that they are managing the land in an environmentally benign manner, and are causing no harm. We can see the benefits of this approach, which accords to an extent with ideas advanced under the heading of Low Impact Development. But we have doubts about the long term effects of policies which would permit residences on landscape and wildlife grounds alone, without reference to other criteria.
In particular, allowing a series of such houses to be built without limitations upon car traffic would create sprawling wealthy suburbs on the US ñan acre and three carsî model. There is also a danger that ill-formulated policies along these lines would allow rich people to acquire privacy and a view by buying up very large chunks of land, sticking a few sheep on them, planting some native broadleaves and claiming Countryside Stewardship grants.
This is already happening with farms where there is an existing dwelling. This approach may be great for wildlife, and for chocolate box landscapes, but it does not create a thriving sustainable countryside. Instead it raises the price of land to a level which people who genuinely want to live off the land canÍt afford; and i t makes the UK even more dependent upon food and resources from countries where people are less precious about the environmental quality of their land. If low impact development begins to make some headway in the planning system, then there will be powerful interest groups trying to push it in this direction. We may well return to this matter in future issues of C7 News.
The quotes are from a DCS abstract of the appeal, and not from the decision letter. Test Valley DC, Inspector: Martin Andrews
Maureen Boustred has sent us her proposal for mobile home sites which are small co-operatively run communities committed to eco-restoration and sustainable land management.
She envisages people using adapted mobile homes for immediate housing when they first move onto rural sites, so they can adjust to their surroundings, get started working on the land an d have time to build a permanent low-impact home designed for a specific position and particular needs of the occupiers. Once the permanent home is completed, the mobile home would be removed.
She proposes dwellings consisting of two conventional units bolted together, insulated by straw bales on the north , heated by a green house on the south, and powered with solar panels.
Temporary secondhand mobile homes are often used by individual smallholders who apply for temporary permission , so that they can prove the viability of their enterprises . Maureen sees mobile homes as useful for groups setting up eco-hamlets on the urban fringe, on Forestry Commission land, and particularly in the ñgarden of Englandî, the South East.
Maureen also recommends that local authorities encourage residents of traditional mobile home sites to get together and buy their sites collectively, so that they can worry less about unscrupulous landlords and more about creating a convivial environment.
High Impact Eco-Villag es
The architects of the London Eye have come up with their own solution to the housing crisis in London: 200 metre high ñSkyhouses,î of up to 50 storeys packed with flats.
These towers, we are assured, will be very different from the unpopular towerblock s of the 1960Ís, because every few floors there will be spaces for trees and gardens with communal areas, restaurants, cr?ches, shops, and health clubs. On the top floor is a swimming pool with a panoramic view. Doubtless there will be computerized shopping and banking and people will be able to work at home from their computer. It wonÍt matter if the tower blocks create a hostile, barren windswept space beneath them, because their inhabitants will hardly ever need to go out.
We have seen this sort of thing before from the likes of Le Corbusier, Paolo Solari and Dan Dare; the difference now is that the blueprints are backed up by compact city arguments and garnished with green features. The Skyhouses will cram unprecedented numbers of plebs into a small area, thus saving countless acres of countryside from developments of the kind p roposed by Maureen Boustred. And they will be powered by solar panels and noiseless wind turbines, and harvest rainwater (though there will be 50 times less rain falling on each dwelling than would fall on one of MaureenÍs mobile homes, and a lot less sunshine).
If a vertiginous, climate controlled, digitally-monitored, virtual lifestyle is what people want, and if Skyhouses really are environmentally sustainable, then we should build them. It would be interesting to know how many people would like to live in a Skyhouse, and how many in the sort of eco-hamlet Maureen describes. And it is worth remembering that an ecohamlet dwelling would cost a fraction of a Skyhouse flat.
Bits and Pieces
Walter Segal Trust In Difficulty
The Walter Segal Trust has launched an urgent financial appeal to raise £75,000 needed to keep the organization afloat. The Trust was established in 1989 to promote self-build housing and the philosophy behind it. It has done a lot of good work and promoted some excellent schemes, and it will be a great shame if it is forced to close.
We do however sometimes wonder whether the Trust has not made a mistake in neglecting the field of planning policy and in failing to respond to government consultations on affordable housing and other relevant policies. Self-build is not mentioned in PPG3 on Housing, nor in the recent parliamentary commission on affordable housing, with the result that opportunities for affordable self-build are not coming forward. Is there a lesson to be learnt here- that if you donÍt lobby for space, you may be squeezed out?
To support the Walter Segal Trust contact them at 15 High Street, Belford, Northumberland NE70 7NG; 01668 213544; www.segalselfbuild.co.uk
The Octopus is Still Growing
One organization which is lobbying for self-build is Herefordshire Friends of the Earth, who in C7 News 3 described how they were trying to influence the Herefordshire Unitary Development Plan. Three years later, FoE, are still working on the UDP and have submitted a response about the lack of affordable housing provision in rural areas.
FoE is urging the council to give proper recognition to the gross distortion of land values that results from restrictive planning policies, and the dominant financial position of the volume builders.
They argue that owner-builders could receive permission for the construction of isolated small dwellings in the vernacular tradition provided that the owners met criteria for needing affordable housing and for a sustainable development (as defined in Defining Rural Sustainability).
Info: Brian Richardson, 01497 831546
Community Group Outbid by Housing Musclemen
Chapter 7 has consistently argued that the governmentÍs policy to cram dwellings onto brownfield sites in cities squeezes out less lucrative uses. The theme has recently been taken up in a short book published by David Nicholson Lord, called Green Cities „and Why We Need Them. The author argues that ñhigh land values are a serious obstacle to developing new low-intensity usesî, and that the governmentÍs target of building 60 per cent of new homes on brownfield sites should be scrapped. More on this next issue.
Meanwhile Phil McLeish has sent us a typical example from Islington, where local people, in order to save their community centre, are being asked to pay the hope value that the property has as potential housing.
ñMy daughter goes to a kids special needs centre called Palace for All in Archway. We spent two years talking to the London Borough of Islington about the PalaceÍs freehold and in Spring 2002, they accepted our offer. But in December we found the Palace was being sold to housing developers Derwent Valley Holdings PLC, as part of a larger property portfolio. The Borough gave us 48 hours to submit a bid for the Palace and then rejected it.
ñWeÍve now gone into partnership with Barnsbury Housing Association who are putting together a bid to buy the building. Barnsbury are being rushed into buying it before coming to a proper agreemen t with the Palace about the buildingÍs future
ñThe present rent on the Palace is £8,500 per annum, and the estimated value of the property is about £400,000. Yet Barnsbury are currently being pressured to bid £500,000 plus another £500,000 for ñhousing nominationsî in order to compete with Derwent who apparently have said that their bid for the entire portfolio would drop by £800,000 if the Palace were taken out.
ñThe Palace is currently registered as being D1 Use Class (Non-Residential Institution), and Islington planners informed Palace that D1 status should remain as long as there is a demand for it. How then can the council force us to choose between a property developer and a housing association when weÍre a D1 and they know that eitherÍs only possible financial interest could be in ending at least some of the PalaceÍs D1 status, and that the price patently reflects that ? How do we save D1 space and demand that a fair sale should mean a fair price?î
David Nicholson Lord, Green Cities and Why We Need Them, New Economics Foundation, 020 7089 2800
How to Price Yourself Out of a Job
One of our readers, who lives in a well-heeled part of Southern England, tells us how she recently heard a local authority planner explaining publicly why their service was not up to scratch. Planners, he explained were impossibly overworked and couldnÍt keep up with the work-load. The reason they were overworked was because there werenÍt enough of them. And the reason why there werenÍt enough of them was because they couldnÍt afford the price of housing in the locality. The poor key worker didnÍt have an opportunity to pursue his reasoning any further because the audience had collapsed in laughter.
Not in Our Name!
Down the road from Chapter 7, green developer Stewart Black is trying to reopen an old lime quarry „ lime being a preferable alternative to Portland cement because it lets buildings move and breathe, it involves less heat and oil in its manufacture, and it can be produced at a small local scale.
Unfortunately StewartÍs application has met up with opposition from a bunch of NIMBYs „ the sort of people who think that dust and noise should be banned from the Somerset countryside, and that we should import cement from Third World countries like Tunisia or Yorkshire where the natives donÍt mind that sort of thing. These worthy folk meet up to plan their campaign in the local hostelry. The name of the pub? . . . The Lime Kiln.
Pigs and Planning
David Gillet has been mentioned in previous issues of Chapter 7 News in relation to his success in gaining planning permission for a 33 acre smallholding focusing on pigs in woodland. We thought his plans for integrated pig management were interesting enough to print. They give insight into the nature of the integrated multifunctional systems typical of many of the smallholders we represent.
My intention is to earn a living from my 33 acre plot. The economic cornerstone of the venture is the production of high welfare pork and poultry, adding value, e.g. smoking bacon and sauasages and selling direct to the customer through farmers markets. I also produce artists charcoal, from fast growing willow clones, and fungi grown on hardwood thinnings.
Half of my land was clear felled conifers. This country has rather too many regimented plantations of conifer smothering our hills, so I propose to plant a wide diversity of broadleafs. That is when we have dealt with the bracken, bramble couch and rose bay willow herb. Which brings me to why we bought the land. Pigs! We make bacon.
The pig is a woodland creature and if you keep a pig in a woodland it express its natural behaviour. In short, it wants to root. Now we DONÍT want bramble because they have big roots that outcompete trees. The pig DOES want them because the roots have lots of tasty nutrients. While the pigs are happily rooting, they are developing the taste and texture that so much supermarket meat lacks.
We run the pigs on a patch, then move them on, broadcast forage crops, then bring the pigs on to harvest them. When we have done this for three years the land is clear enough to broadcast seeds, say two days before removing the pigs so they can trample in the seeds. We broadcast any small seed such as birch and alder. I can almost hear conventional foresters gasping ñdonÍt you know birch is a weed?î But, what is a weed? IÍve mentioned a few and theyÍre pig food. I use the birch logs for growing edible fungi. Around these birch stands we will plant oaks (for acorns for the pigs), coppice and timber trees.
We still have the problem of weed control in the birch stands and it is at this point that I introduce another woodland creature, chickens, which will quickly peck out any fresh young green weeds; but then they must be moved so they do not scratch out the roots of the young trees.
For additional pig and poultry food I sprout local peas, and make them a few gallons of yeasty beer which they are more than a little partial to. The forage provides them with the vitamins, minerals and diversity of amino acids neccessary for a healthy diet but, more importantly, it provides them with an interest.
You may think this all sounds rather complicated. It is. Nature is complicated. You can try to meet Nature head on and beat it into submission with great gas-guzzling machines and tons of petro-chemical, but for how long? You can try and understand how nature works and work with it, using it to your advantage.
The pigs and I have a great deal to learn. In my first year here I had only a few pigs or weaners and they did not know much about forest life. I was puzzled when they had stripped the leaves from the brampbles, but left the fruit. So I climbed in with them, picked some blackberries and offered them to a pig. I was ignored. Then I crushed them in my hand and, this time, she got the idea. Within a week, they had eaten all the fruit. I also had to teach them to eat hazel nuts. What did I learn? We had to keep breeding sows that could teach their progeny things about being a pig in the forest; things I, a mere human will never know. By looking at the effect they have had on the land I learned we can keep five sows to an acre, penning them and moving them on as their offspring grow. Indeed, the success of this venture depends on the close observation of plants and livestock, being here to look after them and taking the appropriate action.
<b>Escape from Metroland
ñThe sustainability of the house and the self sufficiency of the lifestyle do not override the basic planning policiesî was what development control officer Catherine Milner said about Tony WrenchÍs house in our last issue. In response, Roger Crawford has sent us a letter he sent to his local planning authority who are taking enforcement action against him.
I am somewhat surprisedthat it has taken a further six months for you to reply to my last letter. I have explained why we have been unable to conform to regulations and do not intend to go over this again.
To quote from your response: ñplanning controls exist for a reason and, in principle, not to take action against persons breaching them would question the need for them in the first placeÍ.
I do question the need for them. As far as I can ascertain, the planning control in the U.K. countryside was the result of vociferous protests by largely upper-middle-class people (usually town-dwellers) at what they saw as the destruction of the countryside during the inter-war years. People such as Clough Williams-Ellis and Patrick Abercrombie (who thought it acceptable for themselves to have second homes in the countryside) wrote impassioned articles, broadcast their views on the BBC, and founded organisations such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England.
I grew up in Kenton, Harrow, a suburb created in the 1930Ís. I thought it a sterile, artificial place and took every opportunity to get out of it into the true countryside. I took the Metropolitan Line out to Chesham, Great Missenden and Wendover. I joined the C.P.R.E., and the local naturalists trust, the Chiltern Society and the Bucks Archaeological Society, no-one keener than I to conserve the local landscape and to prevent development. From there, my love of the land, moved me into horticulture.
Since the sixties many of my views have changed, but my love of the countryside and of the land has remained constant. It is a part of my psyche. It now goes hand-in-hand with a regard not so much for the ri ghts of people as the needs of people, and a growing sense of the injustices and absurdities of the current planning system, as it affects everyone. At last, over fifty years since the Town and Country Planning Act was passed, it is being recognised that the current planning laws, as they relate to the countryside, are outdated in many ways and unfair in many more. Based on the ideas of a number of well-off people in the 1930Ís, and their views on how the countryside should look, they are elitist, and discriminate against poorer people.
The current system has put living in the countryside out of the reach of a very large section of the population and has disenfranchised almost every young person wishing to make a living on the land. This in turn is destroying any chance of a vibrant, living rural community, and indeed the whole fabric of the countryside and its market towns. A land ïfit for heroesÍ is now a land only fit for commuters, and wealthy ones at that.
Poorer people, young people, fringe groups such as travellers and gypsies, plotholders, smallholders, allotment-holders, peasant-craftsmen are all discouraged, prevented, barred. All of these in the past have been able to contribute in their different ways to making the countryside interesting. Now they are planned-out of existence to be replaced by agribusiness and estates of dreary ñexecutive homesî.
The planning system is is making our lives poorer, not richer; whilst it purports to ñpreserve the countrysideî it in fact destroys that which it is entrusted with. It is remarkable that even in the 21st century the planning laws can be seen as more important than even the most basic humanitarian ones. It should be the inalienable right of anyone to live and work on their land in peace , over and above any planning consideration. The presumption should be for, not against, having a home on your land, as long as it does not disadvantage anyone else. I am sure the Highland clearances were deemed legal at the time, but no-one of sound mind now believes that the law and the way it was enforced was right. The principle is surely as wrong now as it was then.
It is no surprise to me that all those who truly love the countryside, past and present, hate the planning system „ poets such as John Betjeman, philosophers such as J.B. Priestley, anyone who recogn ises that the beauty of the English landscape is enhanced by people living and working in it, not in estates dumped all over, but on individual plots. It doesnÍt matter if they are viable or not, If they love the land and care for it, they do more to bring life and vitality and beauty to the countryside than any planner could achieve or even dream of. I submit that if the full force of the law is brought against us, it will not be because you see us as a threat to the countryside. A threat to the system , perhaps, but is that a good enough reason?
Big Green Gathering
Chapter 7 will once again have an information booth at the Big Green Gathering. The Gathering will take place from the 30th of July until the 3rd of August near Cheddar in Somerset, but on a different site from last year. For more info see: www.big-green-gathering.com
We wrote about NewLandOwner agricultural consultancy, run by organic farmers David Morris and Robert Jeffery in our last issue, but we stupidly forgot to give their contact details. New Land Owner, can do agricultural appraisals for small acreages, among other things, and we have had good reports about them from several of our readers. Tel 01283 585410, Fax 01283 585735. Mobile 07971 566907; email@example.com; www.newlandowner.co.uk
Low Impact Homes on Web
Over 100 images of low-impact dwellings in Britain can now be seen on the website, www.dwellwell.org. Selena Merrett has been touring with this collection as a slideshow and talk since 1999. It covers structures, sustainable living, and planning issues. She is now going off travelling and so has made her research available on the internet.
The Rural History Centre at the University of Reading is hosting a c onference about The Allotment- Its Past, Present and Future. Speakers will discuss the history of allotments, their place in contemporary society, and campaigns to protect allotments from development. It takes place on Saturday 31st of May, 2003. To book send £25 with your details to Dr. Rachel Stewart, Rural History Centre, University of Reading, Whiteknights, P.O. Box 229, Reading, RG6 6AG, UK
Doomsday for Landowners
Domesday 2000 is a body set up to encourage wide debate and analysis on one of the central issues of economic injustice in the UK: the holding of vast sections of the land mass of the UK by the Aristocracy. They are taking a more directly political line to Land Reform as a follow up to Kevin Cahill’s work Who Owns Britain (see C7 News 10). firstname.lastname@example.org
Steward Community Woodland are hosting a residential course starting on the 4th of August and running for two weeks. Devin Ashwood will be teaching the 90 hour perma culture design course. Students can stay in one of the low-impact dwellings on site, camp on the land, or use other local accomodation. Vegan food is provided. The course is non profit and low-cost. Bursaries available for low incomes. The community is also looking for new members interested in permaculture, woodland conservation management, and veganism. Contact Devin 0845 456 1246 or Dan at 01647 440233
Start Your Own Community Woodland
Reforesting Scotland is selling a new set of advice sheets with all of the information you need to know to set up and manage a community woodland. The advice sheets are very specific, ranging from legal practicalities to woodland managements and marketing. The complete info pack costs £15. Individual sheets are £1 each. Reforesting Scotland, 62-66 Newhaven Road, Edinburgh, EH6 5BQ, Scotland Tel: 0131 554 4321 Email: email@example.com
Woodland Planning Study
Clare Ferguson won the Oxford Brookes School of Planning directo rs prize for the best dissertation of last year for her study of sustainable forestry and planning. The study highlights the benefits of woodland businesses on the countryside, and the problems created for these businesses through a lack of clear definitions of forestry and misapplication of the functional and financial needs tests. It assesses reasons why authorities need to resolve these problems. For a copy of the study contact Chapter 7.
Another Kind of Space
Alan Dearing and Graham Meltzer have edited a new book Another Kind of Space: creating ecological dwellings and environmentswhich collects together the personal stories of people who have chosen to live in alternative dwellings, living spaces and environments around the world. The book shows how an eclectic mix of people are working to promote their own visions of the future. £13.99 + £2 p&p from Enabler Plications, 3 Russell House, Lym Close, Lyme Regis, Dorset DT7 3DE
Job Offer: Starting Up Co-ops
UpStart Wor kers co-op is looking to recruit one or two more part time employee members: a trainee accounts technician and a fieldworker/trainer. We will be doing co-op accounts, promoting community enterprise in deprived communities round the South West, developing innovative new co-op business ideas and running training courses. We expect to provide good training, so qualifications and experience will be of secondary importance to commitment and common values. Phone Alex or Sara 0845 458 1473
Help the Underprivileged
All over the UK countless local authority planners are deprived of the opportunity to read Chapter 7 News. Adopt a Planner For only £5 you can buy a planner a yearÍs subscription. Send us the name and address of your chosen planner or planning office „ or we can select one for you.
Chapter 7 has received enough funding to carry us through the next year from several donors. We wish to thank them for their support and confidence in us.