West Wales News Review

Economy, environment, sustainability

Archive for the tag “One Wales One Planet”

Latest One Planet Development Approved in Pembrokeshire

News: Number of One Planet Developments in Wales Continues to Rise

Daniel Badham’s plan for an off-grid One Planet Development (OPD) at Reynalton, for him and his children, was passed unanimously by Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee on Tuesday March 10th, although some committee members have continuing concerns about the practicality of the annual reports that OPD residents must submit to prove they are abiding by their business plan and the requirements of the Welsh Government’s OPD legislation. Planning officers are hard-pressed already, and reading, analysing and acting on the reports can be an additional burden.

The location for Mr Badham’s venture is 8.6 acres, including 5.4 acres of woodland, about 100 metres north-east of Reynalton and six miles north-west of the seaside resort of Saundersfoot. The scheme includes a four-bedroom timber-frame house with a polycarbonate roof covered by turf, and a greenhouse at the south wall. There would be a timber store, workshop, barn and two polytunnels, and as well as producing timber and food, the land would be home to chainsaw carving and apple-tree grafting enterprises. The committee heard that Daniel Badham, whose professional expertise is in tree surgery, intends to include the use of a chainsaw powered by solar energy.

In an OPD, the land is supposed to provide for the needs of its occupants within five years. The policy was published by the Welsh Government in 2009, and was followed in 2010 by Technical Advice Note (TAN) 6, ‘Planning for Sustainable Rural Communities’, and in 2012 by detailed guidance for applicants and planners.* The big idea is to live continuously within the resources of planet Earth, thus in a simpler fashion than in countries like Wales, where the levels of material consumption are so high that the planet cannot support them into the future.

This productive holding at Tir y Gafel, Pembrokeshire, given permission under Policy 52, predates the One Planet Policy and operates to even more stringent criteria.

The volunteer-run One Planet Council reports that by winter 2019, Wales had at least 27 successful OPD applications, comprising 30 separate holdings, and 12 ventures on three sites in Pembrokeshire, including nine at the well-known Lammas ecovillage, which received permission under Pembrokeshire’s earlier pioneering Policy 52. Two-thirds of the total of known OPDs are in Pembrokeshire, with most of the rest elsewhere in West, South and Mid Wales, and as yet scarcely any in North Wales.

The One Planet Council organises an annual Open Week, in 2020 from Monday July 27th to Sunday August 2nd, when people curious about OPDs can visit several and ask the occupants about their lifestyles and businesses. Details will be on http://www.oneplanetcouncil.org.uk/open-week-2020/ in due course, and on the One Planet Council’s Facebook page.

The One Planet policy is unique to Wales, and although organisations such as the Ecological Land Cooperative have long lobbied for one, there is no equivalent policy for low-impact living in England.


* One Planet Development Practice Guidance, October 2012, prepared for the Welsh Assembly Government by Land Use Consultants and the Positive Development Trust.




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.


Swn y Nant: First Approval for a ‘One Planet’ Venture in Carmarthenshire

Carmarthenshire’s first ‘One Planet Development’, approved just before Christmas, is a four-hectare (10 acre) smallholding near Hebron, Whitland, on the former Hebron Farm. Salena Walker and Christopher Richards will build a a timber workshop and also a moveable log cabin of local timber, not larger than a caravan.

Their aims are to be as self-sufficient as possible, to be independent of mains services, to improve local biodiversity and to develop sustainable income streams to fund the expected small financial costs of living on the site.

As well as the log cabin and workshop, the smallholding – called Swn y Nant —  will have a polytunnel, a compost toilet, field shelter, and small temporary structures as required, such as a poultry house.

Salena told Carmarthenshire’s planning department that “Our goal is to develop a smallholding where we can create an income through a sustainable, land-based business and build an affordable home that enables us to settle in the countryside. The development will be based on organic practices, improving and maintaining a high level of biodiversity, along with the view to achieving self-sufficiency.”

She added: “The development will have a large vegetable garden and forest garden, which will supply a vast proportion of the food and income needs.”

One Planet Development is a policy of the Welsh Government, intended to bring new life to the countryside in an ultra-low-impact way.

Richard Jones, the planning officer who dealt with the application, gave 11 reasons for granting planning permission, including the low and reducing ecological footprint, and the absence of adverse effects on the natural environment and the historic landscape.

Salena and Christopher have to keep to a binding management plan, which is reviewed regularly and updated every five years.

There were no objections to the application, and so planning officers dealt with it under their delegated powers. A similar application, from Dr Erica Thompson for a One Planet Development eco-hamlet at Rhiw Las near Llanboidy, was turned down last year by councillors on the planning committee, against the recommendation of planning officers, after objections had been received.

Salena Walker’s application is W/32825.

Erica Thompson’s application is W/31160



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.


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


Blow, Blow, Blow, the Regime Wobbles but Doesn’t Fall Down

Looking ahead to 2015 and beyond

What if President John F Kennedy had not been assassinated? How different would our world be? This may seem an odd start for a blog about West Wales, but the malign repercussions of organised political assassinations last for generations. History is written by the winners, as they say, and when the winners have devious intent, the history they write is woven of fabrications.

This is not a plea for absolute truth, because we best we can hope for is an approximation. We are all likely to interpret the same ‘facts’ in different ways because of the unique resources we each bring to analysis, shaped by our different histories. When we cannot rely on the veracity of the ‘facts’ themselves, it is tempting to retreat into our own bubbles and hope that nothing nasty comes along to puncture them.

Staring out through the holes of punctured bubbles in West Wales this year, I saw:

  • The frailties of our confrontational legal system, in which technicalities seem more important than ethics, and in which the prospects of success appear proportional to the ability to pay. One consequence is that a blogger, who at the time was learning the skill, stands to be dispossessed of her share of the family home for — if I remember correctly — writing three words: ‘Pinocchio’, and ‘slush fund’, the latter two chiming in essence with criticism from no less than the Wales Audit Office.
  • A dearth of imagination, especially within Carmarthenshire County Council, where a fear of being sued by moneyed companies appears to prevent planners and councillors from challenging the ridiculous forecasts of demand for new estate-built homes, and where ‘supermarkets’ and ‘jobs’ are still linked like horses and carriages, although any ‘new’ jobs are balanced and often exceeded by job losses in shops that are forced out of business.
  • Acceptance, by the majority of the said council’s officers and members, that ‘rural’ is a dying concept and that the future will be CITIES.

Rural north Carmarthenshire is replete with more businesses for sale than buyers coming forward. Our village school was emptied of pupils in July, and stands silent while the children are bussed and taxied elsewhere. The nearest shop and filling station closed yesterday. Yet the planning authority shies away from allowing job creation in what they call ‘open countryside’. People would start land-based businesses, if they could afford the land, but land is a financial asset and its value is out of all proportion to its productive capacity. Ideas buzzing about in the political group Gwyrddion dros y Blaid, Greens for Plaid, include a national Land Bank for Wales, to acquire land and make it available at modest cost to new and small businesses, particularly those which will contribute to the Welsh Government’s stated aim of the nation using no more than its fair share of planetary resources within a generation.

What fate awaits Ysgol Gynradd Llansawel, an   under-occupied Welsh-medium primary where scarcely any children speak Welsh at home.

Closed: our village school shut its doors in July

As for local government, I have the impression that in Pembrokeshire it is waking after years of deep slumber, thanks to the unceasing efforts of a handful of truth-seeking councillors who weather the insults flung in their direction. Carmarthenshire is still trailing in the wake of its westerly neighbour, one reason being that the alertest, most questioning councillors – there are some — do not receive enough support from the others.


Do we want our rural areas to look like this? Edwinsford, a grade II* listed building, has fallen down. Photo by Paul White, http://www.welshruins.co.uk

There is change, not enough yet to shake the foundations of local politics, but a wind blowing with greater force as our next local government reorganisation looms, and with it a great opportunity for local government to help create a Wales which uses no more than its fair share of global resources, a One Planet Wales. If the opportunity passes, it may not come again. Future generations won’t thank us for fudging, even contradicting the evidence – but that is a hard habit to break.


Cautious campaign for Future Generations Bill

One Wales: One Planet – the Sustainable Development Scheme of the Welsh Assembly Government appeared in May 2009.

Now in spring 2014 we are having a ‘national conversation’ about the successor to this plan, renamed the ‘Future Generations Bill’.

Not exactly awe-inspiring speed.

The ‘conversation’ came to Carmarthen yesterday, March 26th, to an event titled ‘Climate Change and Community Resilience for Carmarthenshire Future Generations’, at the Halliwell Conference Centre. The organisers were anxious not to scare the assembly of public and voluntary sector staff, town and community councillors, and environmental activists, but in the process lost some focus by revealing aims that seem incompatible, such as greater prosperity achieved while only using Wales’s ‘fair share’ of resources.

What is prosperity?

Of course, it all depends how you define ‘prosperity’. Is it households having more disposable income? Households being happier? Public services being available and affordable? Or a mixture of these, or something else entirely?

If we really do use just our ‘fair share’ of resources, we have to accept a dramatic reduction of over 60%, and if populations continue to rise, by 2050 – the time horizon for the Future Generations Bill – we are probably talking about a reduction of 70% or more. That is not pain-free, just as the present UK’s government’s austerity measures are not pain free, and those measures are a mere fleabite compared with the necessary future pull-back – although the austerity welfare cuts feel like serious deprivation to those who are affected.

Many of the attendees knew that material standards of living would have to fall, but no one in the Welsh Government seems to be saying this clearly enough.

Resource limits

We can achieve a green-washed prosperity, but only if we continue to use more than our ‘fair share’ of resources, especially because we are pushing against the limits of many resources, such as fresh water, fertile soil, fossil fuels that still provide an energy gain on top of the energy used in extracting them, and rare minerals.

More resources would be available to those living if the world’s population fell, but no one wants to say that, either.

The champions for sustainability, people such as Jane Davidson, Wales’s minister for environment, sustainability and housing from 2007 to 2011, and Peter Davies, Wales’s sustainable futures commissioner, who both spoke at the Climate Change and Community Resilience event, have a complex network of paths to negotiate. They have to be diplomats.

Dr Alan Netherwood, honorary research fellow in Cardiff University’s school of planning and geography, can be more controversial, and he relayed some uncomfortable statistics, for example nearly a quarter, 23%, of households in Wales officially live in poverty.

It will be tough to increase their material standards of living when we are struggling to adapt to an energy constrained world. We will almost certainly have to redefine poverty, downwards.

Return to 1950

Yesterday one of the attendees suggested that we should think about the future as a form of return to a 1950-ish past. This was before the explosion of consumerism, before mass foreign travel, before mass instant communications, a time when most people worked locally and when food was rationed. I agree, we will have to reorder our lives, in response to external pressures, so that we consume a lot less, and rely more on the extended family and local community for welfare support. My grandad, whose family responsibilities predated the Welfare State, belonged to some friendly societies, in which we could see a resurgence, along with credit unions, allotments and building societies.

For many of us, a backwards future without plentiful electricity, tablets, smart phones and You Tube would be alarming, but unless we can switch energy sources from fossil to renewable, that’s where we are headed. We have the technology to make the transformation, but not the money. Another challenge appears: if you do not have enough money saved, you need to borrow to finance infrastructure projects. Most lenders expect to be repaid with interest. Yet diminishing resources mean that economies cannot grow, and growth provides the ‘surplus’ with which to pay interest.

Thank heavens for Environment Wales, represented yesterday by Clare Sain-ley-Berry. This voluntary partnership, funded by the Welsh Government, currently has about £600,000 a year to distribute in grants for projects which have a solid environmental dimension, including community renewable energy ventures. £60 million would be more welcome in the circumstances, but it’s not there and there’s scant prospect of it being there in the future. Every penny has to be milked for maximum impact.

The Future Generations Bill is due to be introduced into the National Assembly this summer, and in March 2015 the first ‘Report on Behalf of Future Generations’ should be published. Yesterday’s event is supposed to feed into the flow of relevant information.

The title ‘Climate Change and Community Resilience’ was probably too general, because apart from raising the dangers of building on flood plains and pressing for renewable energy projects, there wasn’t enough time to do more than summarise the topic, and nobody had to grapple with complex scenarios of competing priorities, and I do not remember words like ‘cost benefit analysis’ being uttered.

Problems to ponder

A useful future session might be to give each group of four to six people a problem to work through, perhaps similar to the following:

  • Schools and hospitals have been centralised but fuel is rationed for private and public transport, and many communities have no more than one bus service a week to the nearest town. How do people access education and health services? Do the services need to be reconfigured? Whatever the answers, you have to show at least a one-third reduction in the use of non-renewable resources, with the potential for a 70% reduction by 2050.
  •  The residents of a housing development that has flooded repeatedly (due to intense rainfall resulting from climate change) can no longer obtain buildings insurance, neither can they sell their homes for anything near the price they paid for them, and many are in negative equity. There is farmland on two sides, level with the estate, and housing two metres higher on the remaining two sides. How can the flood risk be reduced in resource-efficient ways?
  • A landowner in a village is willing to provide land for workshops. The parish council thinks this will encourage some young families to move in – there are half a dozen empty houses available to rent fairly cheaply — and the village school needs more children if it is not to close. The potential site is rural, though, and not zoned for any form of development. The local planning authority is opposed to development in the countryside. What actions could the parish council take?

Was the event worth holding? Definitely. It signals a will, at government level, to take seriously issues like climate change and resource scarcity, even if the language used by government is too cautious. If everyone who attended acts as a voice for sustainability in their own communities, that’s a big step forward here in Wales.

Meanwhile, the London-based UK government seems to have abandoned all thoughts of a sustainability agenda.

Pat Dodd Racher


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.


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One Wales One Planet: Helping Young Families to Live and Work in the Countryside

Yesterday I was speaking to the estate agent who has been trying to sell my late parents’ bungalow.  “The problem is,” he explained, “that people aren’t retiring any more, they are keeping their heads down and concentrating on earning money for as long as they can. Additionally, there used to be families moving in to the area who also wanted bungalows for their elderly relatives, but those families find it much harder to move now because they can’t sell their houses.”

Having just written a report on mortgages, I could identify with what he was saying. With the exceptions of hot spots drawing in money and residents from overseas, places like Kensington and Chelsea and the country house belt around London, the property market suffers multiple afflictions:

  • Fewer mortgage funds.
  • Strong competition for those funds, enabling lenders to be very fussy about whom they will accept as borrowers.
  • Increasing job insecurity, temporary work, part-time work and self-employment as a response to the lack of employee jobs, all cutting households’ capability to repay a mortgage.
  • Households in negative equity, unable repay their current mortgage, let alone take out a new one.

The property market echoes the increasingly polarised distribution of incomes. There is a globalised top tier, a professional tier of doctors, lawyers, accountants and so on below that, a retirement tier, a tier of homebuyers who used to aspire to move up the property ladder but who are now mainly stuck on whichever rung they had reached, and everyone else.

Personally, I think the typical three-bedroomed house should cost no more than three to four times the average income. The median net equivalised household income for the UK in 2010-11 was £419 a week, £21,788 a year. This means that, to be really affordable, the average house would need to be in the range £65,350 to £87,150. All very well, but if you have paid double that amount, you will be very reluctant to sell at a 50% discount, all the more so if you have a mortgage to pay off.

There are terraced houses in this price range where I live in rural Carmarthenshire, but very few jobs available, a fact which is a further drag on the market here. Over most of the UK, the gap between incomes and property prices is immensely larger. In London, the chasm between gross disposable household income per head, £20,238, and the average property price, £416,976, was 20.6 times in 2010. In Wales the equivalent figures were £13,783 and £150,066, a differential of 10.9 times.[1]

In such circumstances, we might expect a gradual fall in property prices until the typical house became affordable for the typical household, but the shortage of homes – estimated by the Institute for Public Policy Research to reach 750,000 dwellings for England by 2025[2] — of course limits the falls, and landlords see a big opportunity to cater for the hundreds of thousands of households for whom home ownership will have become a distant dream.

Here empty houses are quite common, from ruined mansions (like Edwinsford, photo below) to terraced cottages. The slowing of the retirement conveyor belt is one cause, the reductions in local employment another. The biggest employer is the county council, which is shedding jobs. A more even geographical distribution of work would help to populate dying hamlets, and Wales has a policy that could help: One Wales One Planet, a vision for low-impact developments that would not be allowed under conventional planning regulations. One Wales One Planet, and Technical Advice Note (TAN) 6, Planning for Sustainable Rural Communities in Wales, which accompanies it, open up possibilities for self-sufficiency and small-scale employment in and around rural settlements.

One Wales One Planet was published by the Welsh Assembly Government in 2009, and TAN 6 followed in 2010. Applications under the policy started to come in from July 2010, and in the just-over eight months from then until the end of March 2011, 26 applications were received, and 14 of these were given permission to go ahead. Leading the way with three permissions each were Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Swansea.[3] The idea is for homes built of local materials at low cost and with very small fuel and power requirements; smallholdings; food and forestry enterprises; and renewable energy.

All new policies have to start somewhere, and Wales is ahead of England, which has nothing similar. Low-impact developments are a tiny chink in the dysfunctional property market, a small step towards revitalising country areas which have lost shops, schools, post offices and public transport links, along with the employment that used to exist. They won’t by themselves solve the ruptures between dwellings, jobs, incomes and mortgages, but they offer a promise of a gradual revival of rural communities, adding environmentally aware young families and children to ageing retired populations.

The ruined Edwinsford at Talley, Carmarthenshire, photographed by Paul White, http://www.welshruins.co.uk. Thank you to Paul for permission to reproduce the photo: go to his website for several more photos of Edwinsford and other unique, abandoned buildings. Edwinsford’s listing as Grade 2* has not helped one jot to protect it, or to find a sustainable use for it. We need to loosen the impossibly restrictive rules for renovating listed buildings or more and more will just fall down — but that is another story.

[1] Income figures from table 1.1, Regional Household Income, Spring 2012, from the Office for National Statistics. Gross household disposable income is the money left after paying income tax, national insurance, property taxes and pension contributions. Property prices are from Zoopla, June 26th 2012.

[2] ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Housing Demand 2025’, published in 2011.

[3] Welsh Assembly Government answer to written question from Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Assembly Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, June 15th 2012.

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