Latest from Tony Wrench on the Roundhouse

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Thu May 27 17:52:17 BST 2004

Latest from Tony Wrench on the Roundhouse (taken from ):

UPDATE MAY 25th 2004.  From Tony Wrench:
“We have now heard that we will be sentenced by the Crown Court in Swansea on July 25th. I have received enthusiastic support from two local Welsh Assembly members, but, following 'conflicting legal advice', their support for us probably may not be communicated to the judge. It also gives Park officers the opportunity to reflect on the need to continue to hound us while the refining of a new Low Impact Policy removes the black and white rules under which they chose to enforce against us in the first place.”

The Welsh Assembly has produced two papers, Learning to Live Differently, and Starting to Live Differently, which attempt to show the way forward, but has as yet few examples of sustainable projects to show for all the words. (I don't actually know of any). 
The WWF ecological footprint analysis of Wales is three times the size of what it should be to be sustainable. The Roundhouse at Brithdir Mawr is one of the few houses to have been assessed by the WWF expert as having a 'one planet' footprint; ie it is one of the very few sustainable developments in Wales. A planning inspector, appointed by the Welsh Assembly to review our appeal, said in his report: 'with regard to the claimed sustainable nature of the appeal dwelling, bearing in mind that all new development should be sustainable, this is not of substantial weight'. (para 9.9). This is the crux of the issue - it represents the ability of one bureaucrat to dismiss years of research and painstaking effort to achieve something that is not, in practice, achieved by any governmental agency elsewhere, in a single sentence. And this despite sustainable development being claimed, in a recent National Park document, to be the 'overarching planning consideration for the past decade'! 
So this is an opportunity for those members of the Assembly who actually care about this issue to stand up, be counted and do something positive before we are made homeless. There is plenty of planning guidance on what Local Planning Authorities are supposed to do in enforcement cases - the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park has done almost none of them. Their Development Control Officer operates a one-woman control regime that is undeviating, uncompromising and inhuman. She has talked the Welsh Assembly inspectorate out of handling this case as a 'novel planning issue', and is determined to see our house removed before the Park has to finalise its new Low Impact development policy. Thanks to the Welsh Assembly for insisting that the Park gave good reasons for excluding a Low Impact Development policy, and thereby instigating a u-turn, but is this all you can do? To whom are National Parks accountable? 
I have promised a horde of local and national protesters that I will not demolish the roundhouse, and they have promised us that they will be back if the Park attempt to demolish it themselves. This ongoing saga is doing serious damage to the credibility of the Park's sustainability waffle and to the Welsh Assembly's ability to deliver sustainable development and the spirit of Agenda 21, which called on individuals, as well as local and national government, to do what it takes to avert global climate catastrophe. 
I challenge you to do better than this. Please forward this to anyone who knows how to make a difference.
Tony Wrench. 

The roundhouse stands at Brithdir Mawr - a community of about 20 people which aims to work towards self-sufficiency and sustainability. 
Tony Wrench’s solar-powered turf-roofed roundhouse was built without planning permission in 1997, and was constructed out of local Douglas Fir poles, logs and earth from the farm and recycled elements such as windows and tyres. The house was only discovered by the authorities two years later after a survey plane noticed the reflection of a solar panel. Pembrokeshire National Park Authority - on whose land the house lies - has demanded its demolition after the dwelling has been twice refused planning permission by the local authority. Tony and Jane lost a planning appeal in 2002. The inspector viewed that the house had a harmful impact upon the landscape, though it is hard to imagine a house that would have less landscape impact than this one.
Following a prosecution in January by the park authority in which Tony, Jane and three other roundhouse owners were ordered to pay a fine totalling £1,000, it was decided to pull down the roundhouse. 
'Long-term struggle' 
The park authority has always maintained that although it was committed to the environment, the roundhouse contravened its planning policy. 
It insisted that a dwelling could not be built in the park unless there is a real need, because it could open the floodgates to other developments. 
Tony has previously said that his environmentally-friendly scheme represented a viable future for housing: "We may be losing the battle but I think we will win the war," he said. 
"If we don't win the basic long-term struggle for good sustainable homes then our civilisation is in severe trouble." 

The Battle for the Roundhouse

During the Easter Weekend 8 -13 April, The Land is Ours, joined by many sympathetic local people and fellow low-impact dwellers who came in solidarity, embarked on a series of direct-action land occupations and demonstrations to prevent Tony Wrench and Jane Faith from demolishing their pioneering turf-roofed roundhouse at Brithdir Mawr, Pembrokeshire, in defiance of Pembrokeshire National Park’s decision to insist that Tony and Jane take down their home after their long-running battle to save it and attain retrospective planning permission. It is a development which is ahead of its time in terms of the National Park’s own evolving low-impact development policy, which the Park’s Planning Authority have been developing through consultation with local people, including low impact dwellers such as Tony and Jane. 

The dwelling has been twice refused planning permission by the local authority because Tony and Jane’s roundhouse did not conform to the National Park’s rigid interpretation of planning permission. The roundhouse was refused planning permission because, in applying to be an agricultural dwelling under the exceptions policy (new dwellings are only permitted in the countryside for a small number of exceptional reasons), the Inspector ruled that there was no need for Tony and Jane to live on the land since agricultural activities requiring residence could be carried out by other members of the community. Such a decision effectively means that rural communities can never expand and build homes for new members. 
Tony and Jane lost a planning appeal in 2002. The inspector viewed that the house had a harmful impact upon the landscape – an absolutely ridiculous and laughable claim for anyone who has been lucky enough to visit the site. On the contrary, it’s difficult to imagine a dwelling more embedded into it’s natural environment than this one (see photo). 

Tony and Jane have seemingly been victims of a vindictive, concerted campaign to have their roundhouse removed by the National Park’s Planning Authority, judging by the numerous occasions where certain interventions have been carried out at key times during the due process of planning law to sabotage their case. Firstly, the advice of the county council's estates department to give a temporary permission for three years was not reported to the planning committee, which itself was strongly discouraged from visiting the site. After an appeal, the case was to be assessed by the Welsh planning inspectorate, who considered the case to be a 'novel planning issue', but the Development Control Officer for the National Park – Catherine Milner - persuaded them it was merely a case of someone trying to put up a cheap house in the countryside illegally, with the inspector deciding the Roundhouse was ''visually intrusive'' and causes ''demonstrable harm'', though what harm has never been demonstrated! (ta, Private-Eye). In the words of Tony Wrench: “Ms Milner has seemed determined to see the house removed before the Park has to finalise its new Low Impact development policy.” 

Meanwhile, though not recommended by the National Park, the local county council planning committee gave approval to a development in the National Park of 340 imported wooden chalets, plus a traditional village of 60 studio flats, only accessible to paying guests. The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales described it as a “new settlement of up to 2000 residents and 5,000 day visitors . . . The permanent dwellings would take up nearly all of one year’s allocation for new housing in the Park.”

Protestors succeeded in carrying out a series of high-profile direct action stunts during the Easter weekend to raise the profile of the roundhouse. These included, firstly, the land occupation of the National Park’s primary tourist site – Castell Henllys – the site of an old iron-age hill fort where there now contains a series of recreated ancient roundhouses. Secondly, there was the procession to Brithdir Mawr and the squatting of Tony & Jane’s roundhouse to prevent it’s demolition (which Tony and Jane had agreed with the National Park that they would carry out that weekend). Finally, there was the march onto the National Park offices and the mass-protest outside the building. 
The procession onto Tony & Jane’s roundhouse succeeded in persuading them to not demolish their home, and so, they duly vowed to fight on, facing the ensuing consequences of not abiding by the existing enforcement notice from the local Magistrates Court. 
A fresh hearing at the Magistrates Court was held on May 17th, where Tony and Jane presented a simple case, pointing out that the Park do not have to enforce against them - in fact, given the circumstances and the fact that the National Park are presently changing their policies to accommodate low impact developments, further prosecution would not be in the public interest. The Magistrates Court decided to refer the case to the Crown Court in Swansea, as they considered the issues merited deeper consideration than that normally given by a magistrates' court. Tony Wrench: “This is fine by us, because it is good to feel that the issues are being taken seriously.”

Why did The Land is Ours embark on this action to defend Tony Wrench’s roundhouse at Brithdir Mawr?
Tony’s home is a pioneering example of low impact sustainable affordable housing. Tony had so many inquiries from people about hot it was built that he wrote a book (Building a Low Impact Roundhouse, Permanent Publications, 2001) which has so far sold 2,500 copies.
Secondly, there are many other people in Wales and England who face the same planning problems as Tony and Jane. For them, Tony’s house has become a symbol.

Report of TLIO's action to prevent the demolition of Tony Wrench's Roundhouse in Pembrokeshire National Park, during the Easter Weekend 8 -13 April 

The occupations 
The Land is Ours carried out a number of surprise tactical occupations at key sites in the area during the Easter weekend, to prevent the demolition of the roundhouse and whip-up local support to prevent it’s premature demise.
The first one to take place was at Castell Henllys – the site of an old iron-age hill fort owned by the National Park where there now contains a series of recreated ancient roundhouses – and which is now a popular tourist site. The roundhouses here got planning permission because that the National Park planners gave themselves permission to build them. This occupation drew attention to the National Park's hypocrisy and double standards in allowing this type of dwelling, while also costing the National Park some money. The banner unfurled across the site (which was visible from the A487, ½ mile away) read, appropriately enough: “Roundhouses aren’t History.” This was Easter weekend, which would normally have been a lucrative time for the National Park's main tourist attraction.  The Land is Ours probably succeeded in costing the National Park takings estimated to be as much as £10,000 – which could be considered to be TLIO’s fining of the National Park in response to them pursuing their vindictive policy against Tony and Jane!
On Saturday, there was a procession from the nearby town of Newport to Brithdir Mawr and Tony's roundhouse. The aim was to try to persuade him not to take it down. He had already enlisted a whole bunch of people as his demolition squad. The demo did persuade him but to make sure the house was squatted by protestors. This meant Tony and his wife had to move out to one of the smaller roundhouses and they couldn't demolish the building because they would first have to get the squatters evicted. 
On Sunday the third occupation took place. This was the occupation of some land by the side of the A487 (the main road to Castell Henllys) and the building of another roundhouse on it. This temporary, straw bale dwelling provided an alternative tourist attraction and an info centre about low impact dwellings was set up here. It was called the "Low Impact Homes Expo" and a large number of locals and other people who came from further away dropped by to find out what we were up to and learn about low-impact development. 

The demo 
On Tuesday the main site at Castell Henllys was decamped and everyone that was still around headed down to Haverfordwest for a demo to the Pembrokeshire Parks offices. The procession, which started at the local railway station, was enamoured with great musical fayre including bagpipes and drums, with lots of kids involved too. 

The demo reached the front car-park of the National Park Planning Authority’s Offices where they were greeted by the local constabulary who allowed the protestors to congregate behind the cordon tape. The protestors asked to talk to Catherine Milner, the chief planner who refused to give permission to the roundhouse and who wanted to see it demolished. The police officer in charge, Roger, said that Cathy didn't want to come out because she felt intimidated but she would see two people as long as there was no recording equipment and neither person was a journalist. No one was too impressed with that. Instead Catherine Milner sent a guy from the IT department. He said he couldn't answer any questions and was only there to take the petition. The Land is Ours' yurt was then erected in a corner of the car park. 
After some more music was played in the carpark, there was some discussion facilitated by Simon Fairlie, with an impassioned speech by Tony, where he described how their lives had been shoved through the mill and how their case had been effectively sabotaged by deliberate manipulation of events during the planning process by the Park Planning Authority. He asked the pertinent question: “Who elects these individuals?” He pointed to the contradiction between a rigidly adhered-to interpretation of planning policy and the planning authority’s ardent proclamation of “sustainability, as well as Local Agenda 21 which all local authorities are meant to adhere to, to which Tony Wrench rightly made the point that no development encapsulates this policy more than the roundhouse. He called on members of the Welsh Assembly to call this case in and intervene. 
It was then that we played our ace card. Or maybe the Joker would be a better metaphor. We all agreed that we would now occupy the car park as a squat and were going to stay in the Yurt that we'd put up. A section 6 was added to the yurt. 
At this point we can only imagine that Cathy Milner must have been seething. She wanted to avoid media attention but with this decision suddenly mainstream media became very interested indeed. On some news programs this was the top story and one cameraman and interviewer came inside the yurt to do a live report! 
Nearly 30 people stayed the night and two tents were put up too because the yurt couldn't fit everyone in. On the Wednesday, a further offer was made by Catherine Millner to the protestors that she would be willing to talk, with the concession that a minute-taker could be present. It was decided by the protestors that this offer should be accepted, and so, local smallholder Magda Piessons was joined by Simon Fairlie and Brendan Boal of TLIO, in meeting with Ms Milner that afternoon. A transcript of the meeting can be found at the following URL: 

Unsurprisingly, Ms Milner did not back-down or deviate from her previous line of argument in justifying the National Park Planning Committee's stand, while the police issued an eviction-notice for the Yurt outside. The request for a Public Meeting on the subject of Low Impact Development policy in Pembrokeshire was made by the protestors, to which the reply was that a decision on whether any members of the planning committe could meet would be decided at the next National Park Planning Committee meeting on the 21st April. On April 21st, the Planning Committee stated that they could not attend such a meeting until the roundhouse had been pulled down. The committee also discussed the next course of action in regard to the roundhouse, and decided that the Planning Committee would seek another enforcement notice from the local Magistrates Court, rather than enforcing the existing one. This course of action proved unsuccessful on their part, with the Magistrates Court passing the case onto the Crown Court in Swansea, which will be heard on  25th July.

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