Action to Save Tony Wrench’s Roundhouse
Action to Save Tony Wrench’s Roundhouse
Report of TLIO’s actions to prevent the demolition of Tony Wrench’s Roundhouse in Pembrokeshire National Park, during the Easter Weekend 8 -13 April 2004
Diary of what happened
Written by Steve from Sheffield
The actions mainly consisted of a number of surprise tactical occupations at key sites in the area.
The first one to take place was at Castell Henllys which is popular tourist spot because itself has a number of recreated ancient roundhouses. These got planning permission because that the National Park planners gave themselves permission to build them. No one lives in these dwellings, at least they didn’t until the first surprise visit from us lot. Just around closing time on Good Friday one of the houses was occupied and locked up. A section 6 notice was displayed on the door stating our squatters rights and our intention to stay and live there. A huge banner was erected that could be read from the main road that read “Roundhouses Aren’t History” and a number of other dwellings and tents were also put up in the grounds.
This first occupation achieved a number of things. Firstly it provided us with a beautiful space to base ourselves for free for the weekend. Secondly it drew attention to the National Park’s hypocrisy and double standards in allowing this type of dwelling. And finally it cost the National Park some money. This was Easter weekend and normally would have been a lucrative time for the National Park’s tourist attraction.
On Saturday, there was a procession from the nearby town of Newport to Brithdir Mawr and Tony’s roundhouse. The aim was to try to persuade him not to take it down. He had already enlisted a whole bunch of people as his demolition squad. The demo did persuade him but to make sure the house was squatted by protestors. This meant Tony and his wife had to move out to one of the smaller roundhouses and they couldn’t demolish the building because they would first have to get the squatters evicted.
On Sunday the third occupation took place. This was the occupation of some land by the side of the A487 (the main road to Castell Henllys) and the building of another roundhouse on it. This temporary, straw bale dwelling provided an alternative tourist attraction and an info centre about low impact dwellings was set up here. It was called the “Low Impact Homes Expo” and a large number of locals and other people who came from further away dropped by to find out what we were up to and learn about low-impact development.
On Tuesday the main site at Castell Henllys was decamped and everyone that was still around headed down to Haverfordwest for a demo to the offices of Pembrokeshire National Park planning department. This was an incredibly fluffy demo and before the demo started the police explained that they wanted part of it to take part on the pavement. I thought this was pretty crap but no one seemed to mind. The organisers probably didn’t care know they still had their trump card up their sleeves.
The demo itself was OK. Very musical with bagpipes and drums and lots of kids and very hippiesque too.
When we arrived at the offices the police were obviously on the case and, not wanting to see reenactment of June 18th in this little welsh town, had a police photographer carefully positioned in one of the first floor windows.
Just below a thin blue line of police cordon tape clearly showed us where could and could not go. But the whole thing was so chilled out and fluffy: there was food and music and kids and dogs playing in the small empty car park directly in front of the office buildings.
What we wanted was to talk to Catherine Milner, one of the planners who was refusing to give permission to the roundhouse and who wanted to see it demolished. This didn’t seem a particularly demanding request as she had known about this demo for 3 weeks. But instead she sent a guy from the IT department. He said he couldn’t answer any questions and was only there to take the petit ion.
This was incredibly lame on their part. The police officer in charge, Roger, said that Cathy didn’t want to come out because she felt intimidated but she would see two people as long as there was no recording equipment and neither person was a journalist. Well no one too impressed with that.
After that we erected a second barrier in front of the police one so that no one could get too close to Cathy and intimidate her were she to come down. We also said there would be no shouting, that questions would take place through a facilitator and we would all remain seated throughout the dialogue. Well she didn’t take up that offer and after that the police refused to relay any more of our requests back to her.
No one seemed sure what to do at that time until someone started drumming and some music started. The Land is Ours’ yurt was then erected in a corner of the car park.
After the music was some discussion facilitated by Simon Fairlie from the Low Impact community Tinker’s Bubble and Chapter 7. It was pretty clear what everyone wanted and that we weren’t going to get it either. It was then that we played our ace card. Or maybe the Joker would be a better metaphor. We all agreed that we would now occupy the car park as a squat and were going to stay in the Yurt that we’d put up. A section 6 was added to the yurt.
At this point I can only imagine that Cathy Milner must have been seething. She wanted to avoid media attention but with this decision suddenly mainstream media became very interested indeed. I suppose they didn’t have much news over the bank holiday and suddenly we were a national story. On some news programs this was the top story and one cameraman and interviewer came inside the yurt to do a live report!
Nearly 30 people stayed the night and two tents were put up too because the yurt couldn’t fit everyone in. On the Wednesday, a further offer was made by Catherine Millner to the protestors that she would be willing to talk, with the concession that a minute-taker could be present. It was decided by the protestors that this offer should be accepted, and so, local smallholder Magda Piessons was joined by Simon Fairlie and Brendan Boal of TLIO, in meeting with Ms Milner that afternoon. A transcript of the meeting can be found at the following URL:
Unsurprisingly, Ms Milner did not back-down or deviate from her previous line of argument in justifying the National Park Planning Committee’s stand, while the police issued an eviction-notice for the Yurt outside. The request for a Public Meeting on the subject of Low Impact Development policy in Pembrokeshire was made by the protestors, to which the reply was that a decision on whether any members of the planning committee could meet would be decided at the next National Park Planning Committee meeting on the 21st April.