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WRITTEN APPEAL AGAINST THE DECISION OF THE SNOWDONIA NATIONAL PARK AUTHORITY TO REFUSE PERMISSION FOR A LOW IMPACT DWELLING FOR A PERMACULTURE HOLDING.
FULL STATEMENT OF CASE:
According to the authority, the application was refused on the following grounds:
1. "Despite the granting of previous temporary permissions for accommodation on this unit, the functional and financial justification for a permanent dwelling on this unit has not seen proven."
2. "The site is outside the confines of a settlement or its reasonable extension and the proposal would be contrary to Policy A6 of the Gwynedd Structure Plan and AM2 in the Eryri Local Plan which restricts residential development in the Countryside to certain specified classes which do not apply in this instance."
In this written appeal we will argue that the functional and financial justification has been met and that the classes can be applied. We will also demonstrate how information presented to the Committee by the Planning Officer was misleading and inaccurate and denied them the opportunity to come to a fair and impartial decision. We will also make a number of further points.
In order to do this we will begin by looking in some detail at the reports of each of the Authority’s Officers, beginning with the Planning Officer.
A. Planning Officer’s Report to the Committee.
The Planning Officer’s Assessment refers to the applicants having "provided various letters etc. which are included in the document bundle, and give further details of permaculture principles as well as their own work on the site."
In fact there was no inclusion of our material (which is considerable, going back over eleven years) and the planning officer’s report contains no description of either permaculture, the ethics and ecological principles of permaculture, our activities or low impact development (despite the Welsh Assembly’s report on Diversification containing a valid description) leaving committee members floundering as to our aims, activities and intentions.
This was very apparent from questions asked in committee and subsequently a site visit was requested by members. However, despite repeated requests from ourselves we were not allowed to make any form of presentation or provide any interpretation of the site thus committee members, most of whom are not versed in horticulture, let alone permaculture, were not aware of what they were seeing. Similarly, at the site visit, members saw perhaps only 15-20% of the site.
The Planning Officer goes on to quote the Agricultural Liaison Officer’s very brief report in full. As will be argued below in detail, this report contains a number of factual errors and at best is misleading.
The Authority’s Environmental Policy Co-ordinator’s very positive report (4 pages, also dealt with separately below) is then reduced to one sentence and does not even mention the main points that the officer makes.
In a similar way the Authority’s Ecologist’s very positive report (one full page, treated below) is reduced to one sentence.
The report goes on to state that "in pure planning terms it would be difficult to see a unit of this size providing justification for a permanent dwelling". No explanation is given as to what those "pure planning terms" are and this seems contrary to statements made in letters written to us or our solicitor by Planning Officers which clearly state that the granting of planning permission for a permanent dwelling would depend on demonstrating viability; that is, in planning terms justification for a permanent dwelling is dependant on demonstrating viability. (letters dated 13/1/95 ref NP5/60/7C/BH/AEW and 11/8/98 ref NP5/60/7D/GWJ/MW; copies enclosed)
The Planning Officer continues and states that "the Committee did, at the time of the last temporary permission for the caravan, indicate that no further temporary permission would be given and a permanent solution should be sought." This is certainly not our recollection of what was said at the meeting and despite requests by us, the Authority has not been able to produce any minutes for this meeting. Our recollection of the meeting is that the Committee felt an application for a permanent dwelling should be made.
The report than refers to external income as being a factor making it difficult to justify a permanent dwelling yet no explanation of that external income is provided. As explained in some detail to the Authority, an external income was seen as necessary during the late nineties in order to generate investment capital to further the development of the holding and increase its viability, particularly its financial viability.
The fact that the Authority has placed emphasis on financial viability obviously required us to make investments. It was not pointed out to the Committee that during the past 11 years the holding has received no subsidies or grants of any sort; we have financed all developments on the site ourselves. We clearly state that the outside work was temporary in order to raise capital and take out loans for the purchase of equipment. The loans have since been repaid and the external work ceased allowing us to concentrate our energies on the holding itself.
The Planning Officer concludes that the case "must be seen as not proven" although he provides no solid evidence as to why this should be so. In particular, despite repeated requests from us he provided no figures or comparative studies as to what would be sufficient in financial terms in order to prove the holding was financially viable. Financial viability will be dealt with in detail below.
To conclude, we consider that the Planning Officer’s report is misleading in that it excludes basic information relevant to the case and instead includes details which are factually incorrect. The Committee were thus left in a position where they did not have enough information to make a fair decision.
B. Agricultural Liaison Officer’s report.
This brief report begins with a statement by the Officer that he is really unable to provide any technical advice. It seems odd then that it should be quoted in full by the Planning Officer.
He goes on to say that he has been following the development since the late 1980’s and would like to make a number of "observations". We find it difficult to understand on what these observations are based as over the past 11 years the officer has only visited the site once, in the mid nineties, accompanying the previous Planning Officer and has never asked us a single question regarding permaculture design or our work on the holding. It is also difficult to imagine on what this report (dated 8/01/01) is based as the holding is practically invisible from a public road due to the growth of trees.
We believe his first "observation" should be dismissed out of hand as it contains no factual information whatsoever. He provides no evidence to justify this statement either in the form of what, in his opinion, we have intensively practised or not intensively practised, what he believes to be the principles of permaculture and how we have not followed them, nor what he means by "more conventional forms of income generation".
His second "observation" regarding having moved away from the ideas set out in previous application is factually incorrect. We submitted a detailed description in support of the previous application (1998, at the request of the Authority, copy enclosed) which showed how the horse training fitted in with the other incomes of the holding and how they each supported and benefited each other (which is central to permaculture design). As far as we are concerned, the application was passed on these grounds.
Horse training is also mentioned in both the 1991 and 1995 applications (copies enclosed) and was not objected to then. We believe there is therefore no justifiable reason to exclude the earnings from horse training from the overall income of the holding.
In all applications we have described our intentions of setting up a number of interconnected small businesses which are mutually supportive; that is to say, that their individual inputs and outputs benefit each other in a sustainable manner- this is at the heart of permaculture design. We clearly state in our original application that we did not know all the details of these businesses and that we intended to maintain a flexible, diverse approach in order to take advantage of changing situations, public opinion and markets- as permaculture designers we consider this to be essential and recent agricultural events have demonstrated how important this is. The last ten years have seen, among other things, a huge increase in the number of horses kept locally and nationally and many farmers have benefited from diversifying into livery and some into horse training; indeed, MAFF provided guidance on such developments.
The third "observation" is exceedingly misleading and unfair. As mentioned above, the 1998 application clearly includes horses as a major activity of the holding and permission was granted on these grounds; no comment or objection were raised to this. To exclude that income at this late stage with no prior warning or advice is patently unfair.
It should also be pointed out that in order to arrive at these spurious figures for expenses the Officer has had to include in the expenses food for three, clothing, fuel and power (including driving to outside work), drawings (including loan repayments) and capital investment in the holding; also, to subtract the monetary value of what we eat or otherwise utilise from the holding (which is not inconsiderable). And of course to include all the expenses and capital investment relating to the horse training.
He makes no mention of projected income for the following year (supplied with the application) which showed the effect of finishing the outside work and completion of the loan repayments.
In conclusion we would argue that this report is both misleading and factually incorrect. The fact that it was quoted in full in the Planning Officer’s report meant that the Committee were not in a position to make an informed or fair decision.
C. Environmental Policy Officer’s Report.
This four page report presents a reasoned argument showing how the Authority can accept this proposal on its own merits without setting a precedent that could be taken unfair advantage of by others, something we ourselves have stated we are equally anxious to avoid.
The Officer argues that in our case there are material considerations that indicate that approval contrary to policy is justified and clearly states them. He also provides clear indications of controls that the Authority can impose to ensure that the land continues to be managed in a manner that justifies a permanent dwelling, controls that we ourselves have suggested in the past and fully agree with.
None of this was presented to the committee. The only part of this report given in the Planning Officer’s report to the Committee related to the Environmental Policy Officer’s "last resort" control of granting permission for ten years with a further review, which he himself considered unnecessary, as he believed that the other controls would be adequate. The Committee were thus deprived of any reasoned strategy for accepting the application.
The report also refers to "the stringent tests that the Dixons have had to go through- which have been far more stringent than are applied to ‘ordinary’ agricultural workers’ dwellinghouse applications".
With regard to the functional test the Environmental policy officer clearly accepts the functional need for a permanent dwelling from the evidence provided. He also is able to fully accept the horse elements as valid diversification which has no detrimental visual consequences to the area.
He also states that the income produced from this holding can support the lifestyle chosen by the applicants. It is unclear to us why he was not shown the actual financial accounts and projections we provided when the Agricultural Liaison Officer was.
D. Authority’s Ecologist’s Report
This is a straightforward, concise report that accurately states the environmental implications of permaculture design in general and our holding in particular. Further evidence for the positive environmental consequences of permaculture and in particular our practises at Penrhos have resulted in an increase in biodiversity can be found in the work of Rob Hopkins (Hopkins, Rob. BSc (Hons) Environmental Quality & Resource Management research paper Does Permaculture meet the UK Government’s objectives of Biodiversity Conservation? Copy enclosed).
It is unfortunate that it was reduced to just one sentence for the Committee.
Despite repeated requests in the past, the Planning Officer has been unable to supply us with any firm criteria as to what constitutes viability other than such vague statements as "proper viability"; in fairness to him, the planning documentation is not precise on this either.
Our stated intention has always been to establish a sustainable holding; that is, a holding which generates more resources than it consumes without degrading the environment. From the earliest application we have argued that measuring sustainability purely in financial terms is a grave error and we have provided concrete evidence of how our activities go beyond simple economic viability to embrace environmental and social viability in addition, including techniques, many of them traditional, such as income substitution, exchange, LETS, barter, increasing the value of on-site resources, re-use of local waste products, re-cycling, use of volunteers, work experience placements, students and apprentices, etc. (See details in the 1995 application in particular).
We may well have been guilty of attempting to be too open. For example, there was no requirement for us to include any expenses in the accounts we submitted or even mention outside incomes but we hoped that by doing so Officers would be able to see the overall movement towards sustainability. As mentioned above, these expenses include our food, energy and transport requirements as a family, not just business expenses, and therefore the surplus income refers to income after all business and living expenses have been covered. By the way the Agricultural Liaison Officer has misinterpreted these figures it seems obvious now that we were not clear enough in making this point.
As mentioned above, we were also asked by the Authority in 1995 to provide criteria by which the viability of the holding could be assessed. The result was the Draft Criteria For Assessing The Viability Of Permaculture (Sustainable) Holdings which are the criteria by which we assess our own progress. No feedback was provided by the Authority in regard to these criteria and the temporary planning permission was renewed (1995); our assumption therefore was that they were acceptable.
It should be noted that in these criteria, limited outside work is considered not only acceptable but appropriate; permaculture design is not about trying to be self sufficient with no outside contacts- on the contrary, it is about embedding systems in existing community patterns and establishing vibrant links within that community. Our limited outside work (now only five hours per week) is with an existing, local, educational establishment and generates mutually beneficial interactions including work experience placements.
We consider that on purely financial terms the holding is viable, being capable of generating an income which can support us. As the Environmental Policy Officer states in his report, the income is "significant and probably very much higher than that produced from very much larger conventional holdings."
We would also like to point out that the Welsh Assembly report on diversification, which specifically mentions our holding, is in error when it refers to the subsistence nature of these (permaculture) developments; there is no reason why permaculture holdings should not generate incomes well above subsistence level (Ragman’s Lane Farm in Gloucester is only one example). Our own holding is projected to generate a steadily rising income over time as tree crops come into production, as techniques are refined and improved and as elements are reconnected in ever more productive ways.
It is probably also worth mentioning that according to the latest report produced by Cambridge University, the environmental costs of modern farming are in the order of £280 per hectare. In our case, where we have not used chemical fertilisers or biocides (herbicides, fungicides, insecticides..) at all during the past fifteen years of managing this site, this represents a net saving in the region of over £600 per annum which could be included in the financial records.
It should be remembered that the holding receives no grants or subsidies whatsoever. We began this work with no investment capital at all and have funded development from income generated on the holding and limited outside work.
F. Further Points
We believe that it is worth noting that in the fifteen years that we have been managing this site, the last 11 years of which we have been dwelling here, there have been no objections whatsoever either from any individuals, groups or official bodies. On the contrary, there has been considerable interest and support shown and total disbelief locally and nationally that the Authority has refused permission for a permanent dwelling.
We believe it is worth reiterating the point made in the Environmental Policy Officer’s Report referring to "the stringent tests that the Dixons have had to go through- which have been far more stringent than are applied to ‘ordinary’ agricultural workers dwellinghouse applications". This in itself suggests unfairness.
We have been disappointed in that over the last 11 years of our occupancy of the site, visits by Authority officials have been so few and interest so cursory. Despite national and international attention, and despite the fact that Authority officials are employees who are paid for their time and presumably their travel expenses, very little attention has been shown. We have exerted considerable time, effort and money to producing documentary evidence for the Authority in relation to the planning applications over the last fifteen years and received little or no feedback. Our work on these applications, obviously unpaid, have diverted energy and attention from our real work (the holding) and in many ways forced us into patterns of working and thinking which we believe are not ultimately sustainable (ie. trying to generate a substantial financial income from the holding).
Along similar lines, TAN 6 refers to "significant investment in new farm buildings is often a good indication of intentions". We would consider that significant investment in plants (upwards of £4000) gives evidence of a firm intention and ability to develop the enterprise concerned. We would also suggest that the legal burial of a family member on the site demonstrates something of our commitment to the holding, the area and a sustainable way of life.
In conclusion we would emphasise the following.
By granting successive renewals of the temporary permission (against policy) over an eleven year period and accepting without comment the documentary evidence provided with each successive application (including our criteria for sustainable development and diversification into horse training) the Authority has actively encouraged us to pursue the development along the lines we ourselves have defined and kept to.
We consider that the functional and financial tests have been proven and that the Authority has not presented any measurable evidence that this is not the case; the Environmental Policy Officer is in agreement with us on this.
We further feel that the Committee were not presented with sufficient or accurate enough information to come to a fair decision regarding the application.
We fully understand concerns regarding policy and precedent and share them. We do not want to see permaculture misrepresented by unscrupulous developers. Neither does the Permaculture Association (Britain), which is a registered, national charity, nor the International Permaculture charity. There are legal restrictions in existence on the use of the term "permaculture" and we and the charity are prepared to provide professional help, if the Authority so requires, in any instance where a misuse of the term is suspected.
In order to ensure adequate control we would suggest that planning permission should only be granted at Tir Penrhos Isaf, according to the following conditions:
• That the dwelling and the land should be tied together as a unit and should not be allowed to be sold separately.
• That the permission be made personal to us.
• That the granting of planning permission should be dependant on the continued use of the site as a Permaculture holding, as measured by the Criteria For Permaculture (Sustainable) Holdings, prepared by ourselves at the request of the Authority in 1994. Should the holding fail, at any time in the future, to meet these criteria, then planning permission should be withdrawn and the low impact dwelling removed.
In light of the current, ongoing disaster in the rural economy and society and the acknowledged interest of the Welsh Assembly in Low Impact Development and the British Government’s in Permaculture, we believe that the granting of permission for this development at Tir Penrhos Isaf would provide an excellent opportunity to gain further experience of developing sustainable systems which generate real income as well as positive social and environmental gains.
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