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Planning History at Tir Penrhos Isaf
Since we bought Penrhos in 1986 we have been involved in trying to get planning permission to live permanently on the site. The following links take you to the various documents we have been asked to provide by the Snowdonia National Park, the Authority which deals with planning in our area. The documents are arranged in chronological order and relate to the various applications we have made over the past fourteen years.
At present we consider that current planning and building legislation represent some of the greatest obstacles to developing sustainable systems in Britain. The legislation favours those who already have land and property, actively encourages the squandering of resources and environmental degradation and actively discourages movements towards low impact, sustainable development.
For example, TAN6 (50) in regard to temporary dwellings states that "significant investment in new farm buildings is often a good indication of intentions." Note that there are no environmental or sustainability considerations given here such as use of local materials and resources, only evidence of significant capital investment. This does not necessarily encourage sustainability.
A simple step, suggested by Tony Wrench, would be the inclusion of sustainability as a material consideration. This would not require any changes to planning policy but would allow authorities to consider applications, such as ours, that are currently not catered for by exisitng policy. Sustainability could be assessed through the use of simple criteria, such as those that we defined, the draft criteria for assessing the viability of permaculture (sustainable) holdings.
1991 initial application for temporary permission
These are supporting documents produced at the request of the Authority, for our first planning application for a permaculture holding in November 1991. We began this application in 1989 and it is important to remember that at this time there was no general public awareness of sustainable development, global warming, ozone depletion etc. etc. The planning officer asked for specific information with regard to permaculture design and its application in Britain. At the time, very little work had been done on designing for temperate climates and we produced most of the information ourselves. Also included are some notes and after thoughts which I wrote later; these are along the lines of "what I would do differently if I was doing it again".
1994 renewal of temporary permission
This is the first document produced for the 1994 renewal of our temporary permission. It contains a description of our activities over the past 3 years and includes some documentary evidence of income. It begins with an introductory letter in Welsh.
1994 Targets set for next three years
After receiving the application to renew the temporary permission, the Authority asked for further information in the form of targets by which the holding might be assessed in a further three years.
1994 Criteria for sustainable development
As the Authority had little experience of sustainable development and in particular, how to assess whether a holding was sustainable, we were asked to produce a set of criteria. The criteria are reproduced here in their original form. Since 1994 the criteria have been regularly revised and updated (the latest version can be found here).
1998 covering letter
This and the following 1998 documents relate to the second renewal of the temporary planning permission. The covering letter outlines varies developments since 1994.
progress measured against targets set in 1994
This document measures progress against targets set in 1994.
1998 targets set for the next five years
As in 1994 we were asked to set targets for a further period. We opted for five years but in the event the Authority decided to limit the renewal of temporary permission to just two years.
1998 Permaculture design and horses
Unfortunately, the planning officer dealing with the application was (and still is) unable to see horses as having anything to do with permaculture design. This document was produced at the request of the Authority in an attempt to explain how horses at Penrhos form one of the business elements of the system and contribute in a variety of ways to supporting other elements.
1998 References to Penrhos and visitors
This document lists some of the publications that Penrhos has appeared in and also some notable visitors to the site.
2000 Initial Letter
This is the initial letter dealing with the year 2000 application for permanent permission for a low impact dwelling. As we submitted detailed elevations and ground plan, the Planning Officer suggested changing the application from Outline to Full, which we did, even though we had not included construction details.
2000 Functional Test
Part of the process of obtaining planning permission for an agricultural/forestry workers dwelling involves proving that there is a genuine need for someone to be permanently resident on the site. This is assessed by way of a functional test.
2000 Financial Test
If the functional test is accepted then a financial test is required.
Letter to committee members in Welsh and English
The processing of this application was delayed considerably for a number of reasons. The membership of the committee had changed over the previous ten years and some members knew nothing about the case. They expressed an interest in hearing a presentation (from us) on permaculture design and low impact development as they were unfamiliar with the terms. Unfortunately this was ruled out by the Planning Officer on the grounds that if we were allowed to make a presentation everyone who submitted an application would want to do it too
Due to the changes in membership it was decided that a site visit would be in order. I was allowed to be present at the site visit (!) but no direct communication was allowed between myself and the committee members. I was informed by the Planning Officer that should the committee have any questions they would have to address them to him (the Planning Officer) who would then ask me; I would then reply to him (the Planning Officer) who would relay my answer to the committee members.
This is obviously nonsense and "jobs worth" stuff; it clearly reflects the obstructivism built into the system.
It also became clear that the Planning Officer was being extremely selective about what information that we provided was actually being passed on to the committee members. We therefore began to send information directly to them.
Prior to committee meeting on 4/4/01
The latest news regarding the application is that the committee refused on the grounds that as we had failed the functional and financial tests it was against policy to grant permission, despite the fact that the environmental policy officer's report clearly showed how the application could be accepted within existing policy without setting a precadent that could be exploited by unsrupulous developers (something we wish to avoid). This information was not presented to the committee. No evidence or justification was provided for failing the tests.
A report on diversification by the Welsh Assembly, which also looked at low impact development, mentions Penrhos specifically (with some inaccuracies). This report is apparently going before the Assembly in August 2001 and may lead to alterations to planning policy in Wales, hopefully supporting sustainable and low impact developement. The committee renewed our temporary permission for a further year (against policy) in order to await further guidance from the Assembly. A shame in some ways that they didn't have the courage to make the decision themselves, though understandable considering the limited (and in some cases, misleading) information thay had been presented with by the planning officer. The vote was 10-6 against with two members either not present or abstaining.
Due largely to what we considered to be the unfairness of the planning Authority's decision to refuse our application, based as it was upon misleading and inaccurate information, we appealed against the Authority's decision to the Welsh Assembly Planning Inspectorate. We elected to go for a written appeal as this seemed simplest and we hoped that this would mean that the Appeal Inspector, Mr. Huw Charles, would at least get the chance to look at all the supporting information we had provided over the years and come to a more impartial decision, based on the actual evidence (and hopefully in our favour).
We are now awaiting his decision. Not much fun.
Comments on the Snowdonia National Park's Statement of Case
As part of the written appeal process we are allowed to comment on the SNP's statement of their case. We also attached three appendices giving further, relevant information. These are linked to the comments or can be acessed here:
The Appeal Decision
The appeal was dismissed basically because the application did not fit in with the conventional tests for agricultural holdings. Income from our horse training was excluded as the horse is not classed as an agricultural animal in Britain, although it is on the continent. The equine industry is the second or third, largest rural industry in Britain (depending on which reports you read) yet unlike farming (second or third largest rural industry) is not enshrined in planning policy. It is also an extremely energy intensive industry and hence our attempts to green it up; check out our Permaculture Courses for Horses). No mention was made of the educational resources of the site or our teaching and sustainability issues were not discussed at all.
The appeal was therefore dismissed on the grounds that we had not satisfied the functional and financial tests justifying an agricultural/forestry workers dwelling. This is patently unfair when compared to permissions that have been granted locally on far less evidence than we provided. Another reason cited was that we didn't have enough money to build the proposed low impact dwelling anyway (the Inspector goes a bit beyond his remit we think!).
We consider that both the Snowdonia National Park planning committee and the Welsh Assembly appointed planning inspector have shown a total lack of imagination and courage regarding the case and completely ignored sustainability issues. Unfortunately this reaffirms suspicions that the high sounding moral statements on the Assembly web site regarding sustainability still carry no real weight on the ground. Much as we expected really but still a shock.
Application to renew the temporary permission for the caravan.
When the temporary permission on the caravan drew to a close we reapplied, asking for more time as the Welsh Assembly were on the point of publishing their report on Low Impact Dwellings, in which we featured as a case study.
This was turned down flat. Gulp. The committee did see fit to give Lyn permission for the stables and round pen, though somehow failing to realise that it would be impossible to run the horse training side of the business without 24 hour supervision of clients' animals. As a rather quirky afterthought the planning officer saw fit to add the condition that the permission was attached to Lyn, not the land and that if she stopped her business or we sold the land the pen and stables would have to come down.
As the temporary permission for the caravan had run out we were now living illegally on our own land, despite there having been no objections whatsoever other than the planning officers' gripes. Inevitably, after a few months, a rather nice gentleman turned up and handed us three copies of an enforcement order requiring us to remove the caravan and attached timber annex within one year.
So... we appealed against the enforcement order. We realised that this was probably hopeless but felt that at least we would gain a bit more time as the enforcement order is held in abeyance until the result of the appeal. We appealed on several grounds. Although we had asked for a written appeal, initially, at the command of the Inspectorate, it was going to be a public inquiry. This was due to one of the grounds we had chosen which would require evidence to be presented under oath. As it turned out, that particular ground was unwinnable (is that a word?) so we withdrew it. This allowed the appeal to go back to being a written submission. Here it is:
Results of the enforcement appeal:
The enforcement appeal was refused on all the grounds that might have let us stay on here at Penrhos, as we expected really. However, the appeal inspector agreed with us on one of the grounds, that one year was insufficient time to re-locate. He awarded us two years which means that we have until 6th of Janruary 2006 before the order finally comes into force. So, still time to put some more applications in.
We had been intending to submit another application for a low impact build during 2006 but Lyn was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. The whole year was more or less consumed by treatment and left us both exhausted. The planning officer offered us a compromise solution, a barn conversion, which at least allowed us to escape further hassle. Click on the date above for more detail.
The new plans were finally completed and passed by the National Park and our local Council's Building Control Department late in 2008 and we started work the following year, which proved to be the start of the new 'monsoon' pattern for our rainfall here and elsewhere.... This has been a slow and, for us, an expensive route, interupted by all the usual family events and another dose of cancer. However, it will be great when its done and meanwhile we still find Penrhos to be an amazing environment that we are priviliged to interact with.
I will put more details as time goes on.
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