A short history about Tony Wrench’s Roundhouse in Brithdir Mawr, Pembrokeshire
In 1997, Tony Wrench and Jane Faith built themselves a 30ft turf-roofed roundhouse with a ‘one planet’ ecological footprint at Brithdir Mawr in Pembrokeshire National Park. Five minutes walk from the community and hidden in the woods is an amazing experiment in low impact living. This is the house of Tony Wrench and his partner Jane Faith who built their home in 1997. The house is remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly it is very well insulated with it’s earth roof and uses local wood and solar energy for it’s heating and lighting. Secondly the embodied energy to build it is extremely low because it is made mostly from locally sourced materials. There has been little transport energy used because of this and the timber is untreated too. Finally the cost of this beautiful low impact dwelling was incredibly low. Materials cost £2500 and it took some 400 man hours to build. That’s about 10 weeks work for one person. Tony who designed it himself is neither an architect nor a designer.
However, the house didn’t ‘conform with planning policy’. A year or so after it was built the local planning authority – Pembrokeshire Coast National Park – found out about it. Tony and Jane applied for planning permission but Pembrokeshire National Park planning committee continually twice refused, and in 2001, Pembs National Park Authority said it had to be demolished by July 2002. Further legal challenges delayed this action taking place until the Spring of 2004, when, ironically, Pembs National Park Planning Authority’s low-impact policy which was being revised to look favourably upon low impact development in the National Park!
Over Easter weekend, 2004, Tony and Jane had organised a posse to demolish their house. However, neither Tony & Jane nor the National-Park authority had not counted on the intervention of a “hippyish but well-organised group of eco-warriers” (quoted in The Times – 26th April ‘04). The Land is Ours organised direct action to stop the demolition, and give Tony & Jane the moral support they deserved. Protesters from all over the country descended on Pembrokeshire, first occupying an Iron Age Roundhouse village, where the Park authorities had given themselves permission some years before. We flew a huge banner declaring that ‘Roundhouses Aren’t History’ and set up an impromptu ‘ideal low-impact home exhibition’ in a nearby lay-by. Photos here Then we marched to Brithdir Mawr to convince Tony and Jane not to destroy a house that has become a symbol of the struggle for sustainability to so many people. Squatters occupied the roundhouse to prevent them from demolishing it, as supporters sang songs and spoke encouraging words. The emotional couple finally declared that the roundhouse would remain standing! On the Tuesday 12th, an even larger group of protesters marched on the Haverfordwest planning offices of the local authority, squatting the car park with a yurt and tents, until the authorities agreed to meet with them. The event was emotional and empowering, as well as humorous, highlighting the absurdity of the planning system’s commitments to sustainable development. The Park Authority had just given permission for 350 imported wooden cabins at the Bluestone theme park, only a few miles down the road.
Tony and Jane were fined a modest sum by a sympathetic judge in a High court appearance, and then the National Park relented, taking time out to review their previous assertion that they would embark upon pursuing an injunction for enforcement. Then, on July 18th 2007, Pembrokeshire National Park Planning Committee finally met where Tony and Jane were allowed to speak for three minutes (the first time they had been allowed to address them since 1999). Despite several members speaking in their favour – one being concerned that, after all this negotiation, refusal could be based on the advice of just one officer, the committee voted for refusal by 7 votes to 4 on the grounds that the roundhouse did not meet their newly revised low-impact development policy because Tony and Jane’s land did not have enough woodland from which they could derive a livelihood.
Tony and Jane appealed, and then, finally, after 10 years of struggle, on Monday 15th Sept 2008, Tony and Jane’s two roundhouses were given permission along with 7 roundhouses belonging to their neighbour, Emma Orbach. For about a year there had been an understanding that if the two applications were put together then the Pembs National Park planners would recommend consent, due to the fact that while Tony and Jane didn’t have enough woodland, Emma had a surplus. One nearby source revealed that this final peace accord was “cooked up by the women on both sides of the table”.
More Info from Tony & Jane’s website: