Tony's ecovillage in 'The Times'

Ecovillage Network UK evnuk at
Thu Feb 24 21:08:29 GMT 2005

Thanks to Becca at the bubble for this!

Hypocrisy, a hut and a holiday village

By Richard Morrison,,1069-1085353,00.html

BRAVE or barmy, principled or perverse, Tony Wrench is a symbolic figure in 
our confused times. And if you haven’t heard of him you haven’t been 
following the extraordinary shenanigans in Pembrokeshire Coast National 
Park with the attention they warrant. For the past seven years Wrench and 
his partner, Jane Faith, having been living off the land in a grass-roofed 
hut that Wrench secretly built for £3,000 at a farm called Brithdir Mawr in 
the middle of that lovely national park. Just 30ft in diameter, the hut is 
made from local coppiced wood and recycled junk, insulated by soil, and 
solar powered.

It’s difficult to imagine a building that better demonstrates the virtues 
of the “inexpensive, low-impact, sustainable, housing” to which our 
Government and architectural establishment pay such lip service. Nor to 
picture a way of life that does less damage to the countryside than that 
pursued by Wrench and Faith, who milk goats, make cheese, harm nobody and 
nothing, and provide tourists with a picturesque if slightly bizarre human 
diversion to complement the park’s natural beauties.

We used to live in a country that treasured such eccentrics and 
nonconformists. Yet for most of those seven years the Pembrokeshire Coast 
National Park Authority has been relentlessly pursuing Wrench through the 
courts with the aim of evicting him and demolishing the “Roundhouse”, as 
his hut is known. I write “most” because it took the authority two years to 
notice the building at all, so cleverly had Wrench (an architect by 
training) wrapped it into the landscape. It was spotted only when a pilot, 
policing the park from the air for illegal caravans, noticed the sun 
glinting off the solar panel.

After years of resistance, Wrench and Faith were worn down. The threat of 
imminent homelessness, the constant legal pressure and the fines (£1,000 so 
far) took their toll. This Easter they decided to throw in the towel. They 
moved their sparse furniture out, and prepared to dismantle the turf roof 
that had resisted rain and snow for seven winters. “We were preparing to 
move to a commune in Spain,” Wrench told me last week. “But it’s not where 
we want to live. Wales is our country.”

Then came a dramatic turn of events. As Wrench was poised to demolish his 
beloved Roundhouse, a bunch of 100 or so “eco-warriors” from a hippyish but 
well-organised West Country lobby group called The Land Is Ours came 
marching over the hill. They descended on the Roundhouse and (with Wrench’s 
tacit approval) instituted a squat. It was a neat tactic: with squatters 
inside his hut, Wrench could claim that he had no option but to cancel the 
demolition. The result is that, temporarily at least, he is back with a 
lawn over his head.

So why is the Pembrokeshire park authority so opposed to Wrench? It cites 
“national planning policies” that forbid new houses in open countryside and 
are especially restrictive in areas of outstanding natural beauty such as 
national parks.

Fair enough, you say, though you might also feel that Catherine Milner, the 
park’s chief planning officer, is overstating the British population’s 
penchant for living in grass huts when she claims that, if she lets the 
Roundhouse remain, “people will be building these things all over the place”.

But here’s an odd thing. Even as it attempts to obliterate Wrench’s humble 
hut, the park is backing plans for a £60 million holiday village called 
Bluestone, slap in the middle of its prized landscape. To be built by a 
businessman, William McNamara (whose brother, Paddy, owns the nearby 
Oakwood Leisure Park where a girl fell to her death from a ride last week), 
the village will include a “snow dome”, a “water world”, a sports complex 
and 340 chalets. The latter will not even be made with local materials or 
by local craftsmen; they will be imported from Estonia.

I defy anyone to explain how a 30ft-wide grass-roofed hut is deemed to 
besmirch the landscape, while the construction of a small town (which, in 
effect, is what Bluestone will be) is fine. But money and politics also 
come into the story, of course. McNamara promises to create 600 jobs, and 
that seems to have dazzled Welsh Assembly members, who have awarded 
Bluestone a £16 million grant.

Nevertheless, the Council for National Parks (the charity that scrutinises 
all developments in our finest landscapes) is so enraged by the Bluestone 
project that, last Friday, it went to the High Court to mount a legal 
challenge to the Pembrokeshire Park Authority’s decision. The CNP cites 
“serious legal concerns about the Authority’s disregard for its own 
policies and the way in which the decision was made”. That last bit 
presumably refers to the disturbing fact that several members of 
Pembrokeshire County Council (which is also giving Bluestone financial 
help) also sit on the park authority committee that gave Bluestone the 
green light.

I have no opinion on that. But I do think the park authority is guilty of 
monstrous hypocrisy. It guards its landscape ferociously against penniless 
minnows, but seems to turn a blind eye to flagrant intrusions by a rich, 
well-connected developer.

I accept, however, that Bluestone will bring precious jobs to rural Wales. 
So what about an old-fashioned British compromise? Let the holiday village 
proceed, but also let Tony Wrench keep his inspirational eco- hut. At the 
very least it will give Bluestone’s holidaymakers a bit of real country 
life to gawp at, once they have finished jumping about in their snow dome.,,1069-1085353,00.html

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