Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006
Children at Tinker's Bubble
Children at Tinker's Bubble. Photo: Nick Cobbing.

News and Other Busyness

Ministers Veto Low Impact Solutions

Squall 13, Summer 1996, pp. 8-9.

THREE LOW-IMPACT COMMUNITIES are planning appeals to the High Court following refusals of planning permission by Government ministers.

All have fallen foul of planning laws which do not differentiate between low-impact dwellings and full urbanisation.

King’s Hill collective, a three-year old settlement of 15 benders in the Mendip Hills, lost their appeal against eviction in March.

They have been granted legal aid to appeal against the decision in the High Court.

They will argue that Environment Secretary John Gummer, who turned down their first appeal on the advice of his planning inspector, wrongly dismissed Article Eight of the European Convention of Human Rights.

This states that every person has the right to respect for their own home, privacy and family life. Governments can only interfere in such rights in particular circumstances.

“Regard has been made to Article Eight,” the decision states, “and it is recognised that dismissal (of the) appeal would result in an interference with (the collective’s) homes and private family life. The view is taken that all of these considerations are not of sufficient strength to outweigh the strong planning objections.”

Gummer’s decision also states that the convention is not incorporated into English law. “Violation of (the collective’s) rights does not arise and no view is expressed on it,” the decision states.

Gummer’s inspector, however, said the convention was not irrelevant to the case and lent “limited support” to the King’s Hill scheme.

The appeal was also turned down on the basis that the benders, while not development, amounted to a change of land use which was formerly agricultural.

The DoE inspector also refused permission because, he said, the community would set a precedent for others to follow and the site altered the character of the landscape.

According to Mike Hannis, of the collective, based near the village of East Pennard, Glastonbury, they will also argue that the local council has not taken sufficient account of the welfare and circumstances of the residents before issuing an eviction notice.

This argument succeeded last year in delaying evictions of travellers in Crowborough, Kent, granted under the CJA.

“Hopefully with these arguments we should get somewhere,” Hannis told Squall.

Mendip District Council had argued the 12 months notice of eviction given to the collective allowed for this “human element”.

The inspector did find that savings to the “public purse” in not having to rehouse the 20 occupants lent weight to their argument against eviction.

The appeal is scheduled for July.

The residents of caravans in a field at Teepee Valley, in Wales, were granted permission to remain on their site by Welsh Secretary William Hague in May.

Lisa in her bender at Kings Hill. Photo: Nick Cobbing.
Lisa in her bender at Kings Hill. Photo: Nick Cobbing.

But Hague refused similar permission for three teepees in the same field - against the advice of his own inspector and despite their meeting the same criteria as the caravans - ie they had been there for over ten years.

The residents now intend to appeal in the High Court arguing that Hague is wrong in law.

Like much of Teepee Valley, a settlement near a small hamlet called Llanfynydd, near Carmarthen, the caravans and teepees have been on site for over ten years. In such cases normal planning considerations are void and a “certificate of lawful use or development” is obligatory.

A public inquiry was launched 18 months ago when the then local authority, Dinfwr Council, issued an eviction notice against the valley. The report of the planning inspector, which recommended granting certificates for both teepees and caravans, was called in by Hague for his personal decision, published on May 15th.

“We believe the Secretary of State was wrong in overruling his inspector,” Valley solicitor David Stevens told Squall. “Subject to legal aid we will appeal to the High Court to get his decision overturned as an error of law. If they’ve been there ten years, which they have, they should get a certificate of lawful use or development. This is a matter of facts. It is not a matter of planning merit.”

Stevens added that such certificates don’t affect any other piece of land but are important for the survival of the Valley.

“If you have half a dozen fields and four have lawful planning certificates it makes it harder for a local authority to refuse permission to those in the middle,” he told Squall.

An appeal is to be lodged by the Tinker’s Bubble collective after a High Court judge refused in May to grant planning permission for their low- impact dwellings.

The ruling enshrines in law that permaculture - practised by the collective - is the same as subsistence agriculture, which it is not.

According to Bubble member Simon Fairlie the decision could be used against other permaculturists who want to live on their land.

Simon Fairlie told Squall: “The planning system makes it virtually impossible to live on your land if you are a subsistence farmer. But a number of people have planning permission to live on their land where there is permaculture.”

The eleven members of the Tinker’s Bubble Trust - a sustainable community based in a small area of woodland near the Somerset Village of Norton Sub Hamden - had brought their case to the High Court in order to overturn a decision by Environment Secretary John Gummer.

Gummer had overturned an earlier decision by one of his own inspectors that the dwellings at Tinker’s Bubble, benders and tents, should be granted permission.

Although the inspector had visited Tinkers’ Bubble, and Gummer had not, Gummer refused permission on the grounds that the Bubblers were “subsistence farmers” which, he said, was the same as permaculture.

According to Simon Fairlie the two are completely different. He says the dictionary definition of subsistence agriculture is farming “without any significant surplus or sale”.

Permaculture, on the other hand, is “the harmonious integration of landscape and people” who live sustainably on their land.

Fairlie says the Bubblers do have a surplus of produce which is sold into the wider community.

In May a statutory review of Gummer’s decision was thrown out by deputy judge Nigel McLeod QC who agreed with Gummer that permaculture is a form of subsistence farming.

In a statutory review no new evidence is admissible - even to disprove erroneous statements.

The Bubblers had also argued their settlement was a form of sustainable development as defined under the Agenda 21 agreement, signed by Britain, at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

Gummer said this argument had “negligible weight” because the collective were “subsistence farmers”. Sustainability is, he said, only relevant to the occupants and not the wider community.

In his ruling McLeod agreed with Gummer, saying what constituted sustainable development was a matter of opinion and so Gummer

could say what he wanted about it. According to the Bubble collective, however, the term was exhaustively defined at the Rio Summit.

It means, they say, not consuming more than one’s fair share of the resources.