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.