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West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Neighbours’ Antagonism Holds Up Carmarthenshire’s First ‘One Planet’ Development

“A large majority of constituents are totally against this,” declared Cllr Roy Llewellyn, voicing his opposition to Carmarthenshire’s first ‘One Planet’ development, proposed for Rhiw Las, Abbey Road, Whitland, on a site 3.1 miles north of the town and 1.4 miles south of the village of Llanboidy. For Cllr Llewellyn (Plaid Cymru, Llanboidy) the plans for four smallholdings on 21.5 acres would spoil the tranquil landscape and, in addition, would be economic failures. If farmers could not make a living from full-sized farms, he asked, how could the applicants be self-sufficient on five acres or so each?

Today, planning officer Richard Jones had advised Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning committee to approve the plan, submitted by Dr Erica Thompson for Rhiw Las Ltd, but the committee disagreed and rejected it.

The reasons they gave appeared to have more to do with their personal stance than with valid objections under the One Planet policy as such. For Cllr Llewellyn, apart from a perceived lack of economic justification, the local roads are not wide enough and the site is in open countryside. If the application were allowed  “we would have opened the doors to every Tom, Dick and Harry”, he insisted.

Cllr Tyssul Evans (Plaid Cymru, Llangyndeyrn) said he did not think the venture could be sustainable. For Cllr Joy Williams (Plaid Cymru, Pontyberem) the site was too far from a village, and Cllr Joseph Davies (Independent, Manordeilo and Salem) could not understand why the applicants would need to live on the site – surely they could commute from a town or village? “Do these people have to be on site 24 hours a day? I doubt it,” he declared, adding that if the committee granted the application, it would be doing an injustice to farmers’ children whose own applications had been refused.

They were not the only opponents of the application, submitted under the One Planet policy which was introduced by the Welsh Government in 2009 as a key measure to cut carbon emissions and to aid Wales’ transition to a sustainable nation using only the resources of a single Earth, instead of the clearly unsustainable three Earths of the present day. One Planet developments have to abide by a management plan detailing how the applicants will cut their use of non-renewable resources, and this means a different way of life: more self-sufficient, much less polluting, less materialistic. Basic needs have to come from the land, mechanised travel is kept to a minimum, and homes should be constructed of local materials and have maximum energy efficiency.

Cllr Peter Cooper (Labour, Saron) said he could not support the proposal. Cllr Tom Theophilus (Independent, Cilycwm) challenged the viability of the management plan which the applicants had prepared, and predicted that the proposals would “come to nothing”.

An undercurrent of resentment swirled about the council chamber, the resentment expressed by Cllr Joseph Davies that farmers had been refused permission to build homes for the next generation, and from this perspective it might seem odd that a planning officer should recommend them to allow a scheme for ‘Toms, Dicks and Harrys’ who come from outside the local farming community. Yet we have to remember that there is nothing to stop farmers’ children from making their own One Planet applications. Unfortunately, far from all members of the planning committee seemed to have a good grasp of the purpose of the policy, or of the requirements for its implementation.

Exceptions included the former council leader, Cllr Kevin Madge (Labour, Garnant), who wanted the applicants to be given a chance to make their plan work. He reminded members that performance against the management plan would be assessed annually, and if the venture was failing to provide the required food and energy and other basic needs of the residents, planning permission could be withdrawn. Also, said Cllr Madge, if the committee refused the application, he would expect the Welsh Government to grant it on appeal.  Cllr Kim Thomas (Labour, Llannon) liked the proposal too, and said it would be “fantastic if they can achieve it”.

Disappointing, to say the least, that no Plaid Cymru or Independent councillors spoke in favour. Plaid Cymru nationally has a deep sustainability agenda which was absent from the planning committee’s deliberations.

Planning officer Richard Jones had explained the proposal in detail, explaining how it matched the requirements of the policy and its accompanying practice guidance. He had related that new traffic movements should be 225 per person per year, less than a quarter of the Wales average of 967. He described the four zero-carbon dwellings which the applicants would build, and outlined the range of commercial activities – bee-keeping and orchards on holding one, cheese-making and herbal remedies on holding two, forest education and Celtic harp making on the third, and organic vegetables for a box scheme on the fourth holding.

The planning application documents include letters of support from Mr Brian Bowman of the Cowpots ice cream business at Ciffig near Whitland, and from Whitland Memorial Hall, both saying they would welcome produce from Rhiw Las, milk for the ice cream and fresh produce for the memorial hall’s local food market.

Letters of opposition were from a resident who had been refused permission for a home for a family member, and from Hayston Developments & Planning Ltd as agents for Llanboidy Community Council.

Members of the community council were antagonistic. Again, a sense of resentment that people they knew had been refused planning permission to build homes for family members. Lyn Davies, representing the community council, told the planning committee that the management plan underestimated the likely traffic flows, that the land was incapable of supporting four households, that the ‘developers’ were not being required to make a contribution to new ‘affordable housing’, and that the designs for the four homes were “rather luxurious and far from frugal” and therefore quite out of keeping for what would be, in the opinion of the community council, no more than an attempt at subsistence farming.

Erica Thompson, who would live and work on smallholding one, explained how the plan met the demands of the One Planet policy, and how planning permission could be revoked if the plan was not achieved. Dr Thompson said that hedges and trees would create effective screens, that additional traffic would be limited, and that the existing highway access could be improved to benefit road safety. Julian Edwards, the council’s development management manager, urged the committee to concentrate on the application before them, not to refer back to past refusals, because this was the first One Planet application in Carmarthenshire and, he reminded them, the policy came with enforcement powers.

Yet the committee voted to refuse the proposal.

End of chapter one, but the rest of the book has yet to be written.

PDR

The documents relating to the application, reference number W/31160, are on Carmarthenshire County Council’s website. The One Wales One Planet policy is here.  The practice guidance is here

 

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16 thoughts on “Neighbours’ Antagonism Holds Up Carmarthenshire’s First ‘One Planet’ Development

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  3. Phil Thomas on said:

    I believe that those who have knowledge of the area and its typical demographic will appreciate what it takes to be able to sustain a living off the land in question. You are implying that these people are ignorant and that you understand what it takes to create a sustainable living with low carbon footprint in a rural community, but many of the folk you refer to will have had experience spanning generations, on how to make a living in the area. It sounds like sour grapes on your behalf rather than accepting the combined wisdom the council members hold.

    • Thank you for your comment, Mr Thomas. I appreciate that there will be different opinions, but note that the planning officer supported the application. One Planet Development — which is a policy of the Welsh Government — draws upon permaculture principles, and is all about resilience and low impact. It’s also about re-connecting people with the rural environment. The experience of the smallholders at Lammas, just over the county boundary in Pembrokeshire, shows that it is feasible to live viably on a small acreage, provided that the systems chosen are ecologically sound. Wales has the opportunity to become a world leader in low-impact development, and it seems a shame that some councillors do not want this to happen. I dare say that people laughed at the Alternative Technology Centre, Machynlleth, when it opened, but would anyone deride it now?
      My father, now deceased, was a farmer, and for many years I worked for Farmers Weekly and British Farmer & Stockbreeder. I remember the vehement opposition to organic farming back in the 1970s — but now it is mainstream.

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  6. One Planet is a good-lifers’ charter, and links with other changes we see being implemented, such as the decision early last year to transfer 15% of EU agricultural funding from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2. In other words, from farmers to “rural development projects”.

    Almost all new legislation being introduced, all changes to planning regulations, seem to have the same intent – to disadvantage indigenous farming communities and encourage hobby farmers, hippies and others from outside of Wales.

    No matter how much eco-babble is used to dress it up, this integrated and multi-faceted programme could easily be mistaken for a clearance and colonisation strategy.

    • There is of course no reason why farmers and farmers’ families cannot apply for One Planet ventures of their own, and I hope some will do so.
      I can’t agree that it is a ‘good-lifers’ charter because the obligations and reporting requirements are demanding.
      Re. demographic profiles, not a few farmers have been very happy to sell plots for bungalows for incoming pensioners, contributing to the unbalanced age profile. I think greater diversity in settlements and enterprises is vital for the future of rural areas, and One Planet settlements enrich the mix.
      I also think that we need to cut our ecological footprints drastically, and One Planet is a move in this direction. But if you think that technology will always find a way, I can see why you disagree.

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  8. Old Grumpy – http://oldgrumpy.co.uk/ – a commentator on the goings-on in Pembrokeshire county council, calls these councillors on the planning committee with links to agriculture “bungalow farmers” because of their predilection for granting agricultural consents contrary to the development plan.
    In the meeting, despite all the advice and warnings, they couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that they could not determine this under the terms of a rural enterprise dwellings (agricultural consent) application.
    It seemed pretty obvious that Cllr Llewellyn had already made his mind up when he requested a site a site visit on 10th September. I wasn’t aware that “it has to be seen to be believed” is a valid planning reason.
    At this weeks meeting, it wasn’t clear whether he was speaking as a substitute member of the planning committee or as a member of Llanboidy community council. Carmarthenshire County Council’s codes and protocols for members, ‘Part 5.2 Code of Conduct for Councillors and Officers in Planning Matters’ is quite clear on what is expected of councillors who are also community councillors.

    • Greens for Plaid has sent an invitation to council leader Emlyn Dole for a councillor to learn about the One Planet policy on a tour of similar ventures in Pembrokeshire, October 21st. There will be more of these applications, so vital that councillors generally and planning committee members in particular are familiar with the policy.

  9. These councillors know perfectly well that this appliction will be passed on appeal. they are wasting time and tax payers money to indulge their own resentments and ignorance. Shame on them.
    I am a welshman and entrepenuer and it’s people like that, who forced me and my businesses out of Wales.

    • I don’t think they understand the policy at all. OK, they may not have received any training, but it is disappointing that those who objected did not even seem to have read the policy or the practice guidance.

  10. Helen Adam on said:

    really sorry to hear this. It sounds like a lot more education needs to be done so councillors understand the policy. Not that that is much comfort to the present applicants. Well done Labour councillors, but as you say, it is disappointing that no Plaid or Green ? councillors felt able to support it. Does it go to appeal now?

    • ‘Green’ and ‘councillor’ do not yet go together in Carmarthenshire! I gather that there will be an appeal, and given the support of the planning officer, it would be very strange indeed if it did not succeed.

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