Inspector Contradicts Councillors over ‘One Planet’ Eco Hamlet
Planning Inspector Alwyn B Nixon has allowed, on appeal, a mini eco-hamlet of four homes on 21.5 acres at Rhiw Las, Abbey Road, Whitland. The original planning application, from Rhiw Las Ltd’s Dr Erica Thompson, was submitted under Wales’ One Planet policy for sustainable development in the countryside. Her application was refused by Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning committee, who went against the advice of planning officers.
There is an extra sting in the tail for the planning committee – Erica Thompson reports that the council has to pay the full costs of the appeal.
The One Planet policy allows new land-based live-and-work enterprises in the countryside provided that strict rules are followed. The guiding principle is to use very small amounts of finite resources, and to rely on renewable resources which planet Earth can continuously provide.
The reasons which councillors gave for rejecting Rhiw Las Ltd’s application included their personal opinions that occupants would fail to make a sufficient living, that they could live elsewhere and work on the land during the day, that it would encourage similar applications, and that it was too far from a village. Committee members then asked the planning department to come up with valid reasons for rejecting the plan. In the end, planning officers extracted three policies from the 2014 Carmarthenshire Local Development Plan and applied them to the One Planet policy in such a way as to make it very unlikely that any One Planet application for a rural location could ever be approved in the county.
At the behest of the critical councillors, planning officers suggested that the proposed site, 3.5 miles from Whitland and 2.2 miles from Llanboidy, is inadequately served by an integrated transport network catering for pedestrians, cyclists and public-transport users, and so conflicts with policy GP1 of the Local Development Plan. They said there is also a conflict with policy TR2, because the site is too remote from public transport, and is accessed from a road which lacks a pedestrian pathway. They also cited policy TR3, requiring public transport to be accessible.
Erica Thompson lost no time in appealing the refusal, and was vindicated this week (June 29th) when the inspector allowed the appeal.
Alwyn Nixon says in his decision: “It is clear that there is some scepticism amongst local community representatives as to the feasibility of the proposals; also a concern that such development will fail to integrate with the wider community. However, I find that the proposals are supported by a detailed development programme which fully meets the specific requirements laid out in Welsh Government guidance for their consideration of land-based OPD (One Planet Development) in the countryside.”
In response to councillors’ concerns over accessibility and public transport, the inspector concluded that “the development would be acceptably located as regards as regards its accessibility to local facilities and the availability of alternatives for sustainable travel options” and “it accords with the provisions of the development plan, so far as material to the development concerned, in this respect”.
Mr Nixon continued: “I am aware that some opponents of the proposal feel it unfair that development of this kind can be permitted in the countryside, whilst strict controls apply to the location of other housing. Ultimately, however, determination of the acceptability of this proposal rests on an objective consideration of its own planning merits, assessed in the context of the One Planet development policy”.
The history of the planning application can be seen here. See also the Carmarthenshire Herald, July 1st 2016, p.3.