Steward Community Woodland loses its planning appeal

The Land Is Ours office at
Thu Sep 6 18:36:17 BST 2001

Steward Community Woodland has amazingly and quite sickenly lost its 
planning appeal (can't believe it!)
Below is firstly an article from the Guardian today, and secondly, a 
reflections on the planning inspectorate's decision direct from Stewardwood 

Woodlanders told their lives not sustainable

Devon group intends to fight ruling by planning authority

Tania Branigan
The Guardian

Thursday September 6, 2001

To the inhabitants of Steward Wood, it represents an idealistic vision. To 
nearby residents, Dartmoor national park authorities and the planning 
inspectorate, it is a naive and unwelcome experiment.

After 16 months, innumerable arguments and thousands of pounds in legal 
bills, an eight strong community attempting to live sustainably on the land 
has been told to leave its home.

The members, whose ages range from 24 to the late 50s, set up the project 
near the Devon village of Moretonhampstead in April last year, hoping to 
find a simpler, more responsible way of living. They stumped up £50,000 to 
buy the unused 32 acre plot, but did not apply for residential use of the 
land until two months after they moved there. Four months later that was 

Now, after more months of debate, the planning inspectorate has backed the 
park authority's ruling. The group said it will continue to fight and plans 
to take the case to the high court on the grounds that the planning process 
infringes their rights under the Human Rights Act, but is running short of 
cash having already spent £6,000 on legal bills.

"I don't think anyone's got any objection to their principles, but there's 
a right and a wrong place to carry this out and we didn't think this was 
the right place for it," said James Aven, enforcement officer for the 

"Obviously, neither does the planning inspectorate. It's an unauthorised 
change of use of the land and they didn't have planning permission.

"The residential use of the land falls outside what we allow. We are all 
aware of the need to reuse brown field sites and maybe that would have been 
a better option than moving into healthy land which has been there many 
years without any residence."

Project members argue that to manage the land while living elsewhere would 
defeat the point and that in any case they could not afford housing without 
taking on full time jobs which would leave them no time to work in the woods.

But local residents share the authority's concerns. David Cannon, who lives 
in Steward Hamlet and whose garden adjoins the woodland, is worried by the 
precedent the community could set.

"I agree with certain of their aims, but they are going about this the 
wrong way," he said. "If this was allowed to go through it would mean that 
any woods, any land anywhere in the national park or elsewhere in Britain, 
could be occupied.

"They have been there a year and a half and nothing has been grown. They 
talk about sustainability, but they go up to the shops like anyone else."

The community members claim to be "surprised and disappointed" by the 
planning inspectorate's decision, but concede they always expected to run 
into difficulties.

"We planned the project and moved on to the land in the knowledge that 
permission is very, very difficult to obtain and people who want to live 
like this end up leaving the country," said Ben Leary, who worked as a 
computer technician before joining the project.

"The planning authorities get upset with anything that isn't a square box 
they understand and have policies for.

"It is our human right to be able to live off the earth and to take 
responsibility for our own production and our own lives," he said.

While others argue that the community are naive idealists, the members 
point out that they have already survived one winter, and argue that they 
are well prepared for woodland life.

They gained experience of coppicing, felling and other skills by working on 
similar projects such as Tinker's Bubble, Somerset.

They are equally dismissive of conservation concerns, pointing out that the 
apparently pristine forest is in fact a former conifer plantation.

"Its value for conservation comes through its potential for conversion back 
to broadleaf woodland. Otherwise it will just turn into bramble and 
sycamore," said Mr Leary.


 From Stewardwood:

The Planning Inspector's decision

"We do not own this earth. We hold it in trust for our children."

We are very surprised and disappointed at the decision of the Planning 
Inspector to dismiss our Appeal. We feel that the decision goes against the 
weight of the evidence and the arguments presented at the public inquiry. 
It is a missed opportunity to support a valuable sustainable working 
woodland and conservation project. This project is demonstrating 
sustainable solutions on a local, grassroots level to some of today's 
environmental problems. This accords with, amongst other things, Agenda 21 
of the international Rio Declaration, under which all local authorities 
have commitments to support and encourage sustainable developments and 

We always knew that there would be difficulty in obtaining planning 
permission for this project. Planning policies locally and nationally do 
not take account of low impact, sustainable developments. So our planning 
application and the appeal was decided on the basis of policies designed 
for ordinary housing developments and agricultural activities.

We are reviewing the inspector's decision with our solicitor and 
considering our options. Our most immediate problems are of building up 
group moral again after the bad news and raising the money to pay the legal 
costs we have already amassed during the appeal. Beyond that, there is a 
strong possibility that we will appeal against the decision to the High 
Court (probably on the basis that our rights as set out in articles 8 and 9 
of the Human Rights Act are being infringed).

We are not just undertaking this project and continuing to persevere 
through the legal process for ourselves but also for people locally and 
further afield who are supporting us and see the project as a valuable one 
(for now and future generations); and for the sake of the future well-being 
of the environment, animals and people.

We feel that the inspector's decision is flawed for the following reasons 
(amongst others):

•The inspector fails to grasp the holistic nature of the project. How can 
there be a sustainable living project without living sustainably? Living in 
conventional housing in nearby towns and commuting to the site could only 
be supported by having full-time jobs elsewhere, leaving us with little or 
no time to carry out the project. Living in the woods, we can dedicate all 
of our time to the project and be fully committed to it. We are 
demonstrating the ability to live without connection to any of the 
utilities (water, electricity, gas, sewage disposal), providing all of 
these services ourselves by ecological and sustainable means (filtered 
spring water, reed bed 'grey water' filtering, compost toilets, renewable 
energy). In short, integrating people with nature and low impact production 
is a vital ingredient of sustainable development. •The inspector dismissed 
the idea that the project can be financially viable for 15 residents. But 
he fails to take into account subsistence production, for example that we 
provide our own food, fuel and electricity etc. •The inspector calculated 
the hours we need to be working, but not only does he misinterpret our 
Business and Enterprise Plan, he also fails to take into account unpaid 
work such as path improvement, public access, control of invasive species 
and other woodland improvement, outreach work and showing visitors round. 
There is also the extra work involved in maintaining a sustainable low 
impact life such as chopping firewood, constructing and maintaining 
dwellings, renewable energy systems and other infrastructure etc. Then of 
course there's all the work involved in trying to obtain planning permission!

In the Dartmoor National Park Management Plan (Consultation Draft - 
February 2000), a vision is presented of Dartmoor as "a place where all 
human activity is in harmony with the conservation and enhancement of the 
area's scenic beauty, ecological value and cultural heritage. It is a place 
of inspiration, of evolution and of socio-economic viability, where 
resources are managed sustainably." We believe our plans for Steward 
Community Woodland are a step towards such a vision.

The above is the view of all the members of Steward Community Woodland, but 
the press can, if they wish, attribute any of the text as quotes from Pete 
Cow (a member of Steward Community Woodland).

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