The Landmatters Co-op, an eco-settlement in South Devon, has won its appeal against an enforcement notice served by the local district council after retrospective planning permission had been refused.
Members of the co-op moved to the 42 acre site near Allaleigh, ten miles from Totnes, two years ago. The community of ten adults and three children lives in yurts, benders and other timber-framed buildings. They grow their own food, compost and recycle all their own waste, use water from a borehole and generate power from solar panels and a wind turbine.
The alleged breach of planning control was “a material change of use of the land without planning permission from agriculture to a permaculture holding comprising a mixed use integrating agriculture, forestry, education and ancillary rural enterprises and residential use”. The requirements of the notice were:
- Cease the use of the land for residential purposes
- Cease the use of the land for the parking overnight of motor vehicles
- Remove from the land all unauthorised residential structures and structures erected for a use ancillary to a residential use.
At the appeal, the planning inspector endorsed the permaculture aspect of the settlement, noting that the group’s ecological footprint is far smaller than the regional average*. The permission granted is subject to a low-impact assessment. The inspector concluded that “the advantage of permaculture and sustainable ways of living facilitated by this project has sufficient potential value to outweigh the limited harm to other interests”.
If you read the full findings, it’s obvious that this was a very pragmatic decision. If the appeal was denied and the residential component of the settlement was removed, other (legal) activities already associated with the site would continue, resulting in many of the ‘harmful’ effects cited by the council in justifying its enforcement notice.
This is a victory for Landmatters, but don’t expect to be able to bypass planning laws at will just by sticking a ‘permaculture’ sign on the gate. This was a special case, which succeeded only with the help of an unusual dose of common sense from the appeal inspector.
* The Landmatters ecological footprint is approximately 46% of that of a typical UK citizen. Their average carbon footprint is 3.6 tonnes compared to the UK average of 10.92 tonnes. This far exceeds the Stern Report’s recommended target of a 30% CO2 emissions cut by 2020. Landmatters have already achieved the 60% target cut in emissions recommended by the Report for 2050.