End of the good life? Seeking planning permission was against couple's principles

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Sun Mar 2 23:41:32 GMT 2014

End of the good life! Couple who spent five years 
building eco home must tear it down - because 
seeking planning permission was against their principles

    * Matthew Lepley, 34, and Jules Smith, 54, 
left London five years ago to build their dream house in the countryside
    * They used railway sleepers, lorry tyres and 
scrap metal to build up the house, and used no power tools
    * Home has an outdoor compost toilet, no 
power or running water, and an underground pantry instead of a fridge
    * The couple are now facing an order from 
Torridge District Council in Devon to tear down their home after complaints
    * They decided not to apply for planning 
permissions because the process uses up too much paper and electricity
MAIL REPORTER  PUBLISHED: 11:44, 28 February 2014 
| UPDATED: 15:56, 1 March 2014
After fleeing a city tower block in search of the 
good life, Matthew Lepley and Jules Smith spent 
five years sleeping in a tent and living off the 
land in a bid to build Britain’s greenest home.
Armed with an axe and hand tools, they pieced 
together scrap metal, tyres and wooden crates 
until a one-bedroom cabin – complete with compost 
toilet – rose out of the muddy field they had bought.
Now the couple have been served with an 
enforcement notice to tear it all down – because 
it was against their eco-friendly beliefs to apply for planning permission.
They argue that the process would have wasted too much paper and energy.
Mr Lepley, 34, said: ‘We wanted to build a home 
that would let us truly live as one with nature.
‘The process was a lot slower but it was 
extremely satisfying. We wanted to reduce carbon 
emissions as much as possible. We took the 
decision to build without planning permission 
because the council’s procedure is not 
environmentally  friendly enough and it goes against our personal principles.’
Five years ago, Mr Lepley and 54-year-old partner 
Miss Smith left jobs as carers and moved out of 
the tower block in Wood Green, north London, where they were living.
They bought a 20-acre field in Beaworthy, Devon, 
put aside £20,000 for construction costs, and set 
about scouring farmland and scrap yards for 
unwanted materials which they could use to build their home.

Country retreat: Ms Smith, left, and Mr Lepley, right, left Lon


    * Attic bedroom
    * Bathroom with woodfire-heated bath
    * Kitchen and living area
    * Outdoor compost toilet
    * Underground storage chamber
    * Bore hole for fresh water
    * Duck pond and vegetable patch
    * No electricity or running water
They built foundations out of tractor tyres 
filled with gravel and used haulage pallets and 
railway sleepers to construct the walls and roof.
Today the house is made up of just one bedroom, a 
living room, kitchen and bathroom.
Water is drawn out of the ground via a bore hole 
and they use an outdoor compost toilet.
And just like Barbara and Tom from BBC sitcom The 
Good Life they grown their own fruit and veg and 
rear animals – ducks for their eggs and sheep for their wool.
Because they have no electricity, they keep their 
food cool in an underground ‘fridge’ – a 
compartment dug two and a half feet deep.
The couple say their neighbours were initially 
supportive of their ambition to live self-sufficiently.
They were relying on locals not alerting the 
council to their project so they would be given 
automatic planning permission after four years. 
But two years into the build, the couple say 
locals changed their tune when they revealed 
plans to run an eco-friendly retreat and host green workshops in their field.
A neighbour gathered ten signatures and submitted 
the petition to Torridge District Council.
Mr Lepley and Miss Smith appealed against the 
first enforcement notice three years ago and are 
now in the process of appealing against the 
second one. Mr Lepley, who earns a living selling 
homemade produce and doing part-time care work, 
said: ‘What we’ve done isn’t illegal.
‘We’ve had a lot of drama with the neighbours. 
Some have been really supportive while others 
have gone against us and started a petition.
‘The idea of the conservation project was to 
provide retreat accommodation and run courses and 
workshops on sustainable living.  The house and 
surrounding land enables us to be totally 
self-sufficient. This life is not for everyone 
but we love it. We would be devastated if we had to knock down.’
A council spokesman said: ‘I can confirm Torridge 
District Council has served an enforcement notice 
that they remove the structure.
‘However, as it has now gone to appeal, we have 
to wait for the inspector’s decision before we can take any further action.’

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