Charcoal burning venture inflames planners
by Pat Dodd Racher
Paul and Kate Hooper’s charcoal burning in a wood near Llandovery caused some hot collars in Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning department. The Hoopers constructed a simple temporary wooden dwelling in their 36-acre wood, Allt Cefn Crug. They say that charcoal burning requires them to be on site during the whole process in case of overheating, also to switch over the drums containing charcoal as each reaches the end of the production process. The planners, though, ordered the demolition of the structure, claiming that the Hoopers had no need to be on site throughout charcoal burning, and that they should live somewhere else.
Planning inspector Tim Belcher last week (February 5th 2013) heard the Hoopers’ appeal, held at Dinefwr Farm, Llandeilo, into the planners’ refusal to allow them to live in their wood, where they produce and sell charcoal, biochar as soil conditioner, firewood and woodland honey. Barrister James Corbet Burcher represented Mr and Mrs Hooper, and additional support for the enterprise came from LATRA, Llandovery Area Tenants and Residents Association; Transition Town Llandeilo; and Calon Cymru Network. Calon Cymru is a community interest company working to regenerate the rural economy along the Heart of Wales railway corridor.
Paul Hooper explained why charcoal production using a retort requires frequent checking, and why it would be impractical to live off the site, in Llandovery for example. The inspector was told of Swansea University’s interest in the history of charcoal production in the wood, and of the potential for educational courses and public access. He was told that the Hoopers’ decision to live without mains electricity, and with natural water supply and drainage, accorded with the Welsh Assembly Government’s aims for ‘One Planet Development’, a style of living which uses far less energy and fewer resources than at present, and so can be sustainable far into the future.
Kevin Phillips, development management officer with Carmarthenshire County Council, told the inspector that he was “not convinced” that charcoal production needed to be undertaken all year round, and he did not think the Hoopers needed to live on the site. He felt the Hoopers could work on the site in alternate shifts, keeping in touch by “walkie talkie” with an arrangement for the person not on site to phone the emergency services if the other, on the site, could not be contacted. The situation was “similar to a farmer requiring a field shelter at lambing time”, said Mr Phillips. “I am not convinced that a permanent shelter is required.”
The inspector’s decision should be available within a few weeks.
Report also published in the South Wales Guardian, February 13th 2013.