Low Impact Living in Pembrokeshire
Lammas is the end of a 12 year search for us. It started in the late 1990's with a desire to live in a community, which involved visiting many and living in a few. Some were more like communes, some housing co-ops, some loose groups of friends. We decided a while back that commune living wasn't for us; we needed more space and autonomy. But the strength of living with like-minded people is undeniable, for several reasons. Practically, you can share ideas, get second third and fourth opinions, offer and receive physical help when you need it most. Emotionally and spiritually I need to be near other souls, I am not a solitary creature. I believe people are happiest in small communities, where they can celebrate the cycle of the year together, and everyone knows who you are. For me this provides a feeling of security, with the proviso that I can have my own space when I need it! And when you have children, living near other families I find is a must. My kids are so much happier with other children around.
So Nigel, my partner of 23 years, and our 3 children finally left London in 2006, having lived in between London & Wales for several years. We moved into a 20foot yurt, and started seriously looking for somewhere to put down roots.
We then heard about Lammas for the first time. It seemed ideal, and we went to meet one of the founders on the piece of land that was destined to become our home.
When I first met Paul Wimbush in November 2006, I had a feeling that this was a person I could really support in my quest for eco-community. Paul's faith in the Lammas vision has never wavered and his drive never faltered. Lammas intended to show that Low Impact Living is a viable alternative in these unsustainable times. Developing a greenfield site in a low impact way isn't what the planners usually see, but that's what Lammas was proposing; 9 eco-smallholdings and a community hub building on the outskirts of a village in north Pembrokeshire. The lease price for Lammas was also unusual, only £35,000 for a 5 acre holding with planning permission. Three quarter acre plots in this area can go for as much as £150,000 or more, making Lammas plots incredibly affordable.
So using Pembrokeshire's unique Planning Policy - Policy 52 - Lammas gathered together 9 families who were committed to this vision, and put in an application for planning permission.
Don't get me wrong, this was a fully costed and very professional management plan, encompassing 9 smaller management plans for each of the 9 eco-smallholdings proposed here at Lammas. We were playing their game, with their rules, but proposing something completely new; a low impact community, which received permission through an actual existing LID planning policy. We were all very excited, as our hope was that once Lammas had permission, then other counties would take on this LID policy, and make it possible for many more people who want to live like this, to do so, legally.
We were refused.
So we revised the management plans, and put in another application.
We were refused again.
Third time the County Council didn't refuse immediately, and we were able to appeal on the grounds of non-determination.
This process took 2.5 years and a lot of heartache for those involved. Some people dropped out, others took their place. Most of us have hung on throughout it all, firm in our belief that this had to happen, Lammas had to become real.
So in July 2009 we went to appeal. Several hundred people were there, quite a few local people objecting to what Lammas was proposing, and equally as many in support. The inspector heard everyone who wanted to speak. I surprised myself by standing up no fewer than 3 times, and actually being moved to tears by my strength of feeling. I love this earth and want to live as lightly as I possibly can. It's not that easy trying to live differently when the mainstream tells you what is normal. After the appeal we settled down to wait, yet again, for the decision.
A month later, we received the result. We won the appeal! Three months later I am still amazed. It seems to me to be a small but significant step in the right direction for sustainability, and a massive step for planning policy.
For us, it was the end of a long quest for the home we visualised for so long.
I could finally tell my kids, yes! we will be building our own house. We will be staying here, not moving every 6 months while we wait for the planners to make up their minds. We finally have a home, and with neighbours that are also seriously committed to sustainable living.
So we have now started to build a roundhouse, which we will live in for a year before we build our house proper. The roundhouse will then become my workshop, as I am a craft worker by trade. Our smallholding has been named 'Plas Helyg' or 'Willow Palace' in Welsh. I have already planted 2000 trees, half of which are willow, and have started mulching my gardens. I feel so lucky to be here, to have all this land around me to nurture and be nurtured by.
And as far as planning goes, I am sure that Lammas isn't just a flash in the pan. I expect other counties in Wales and the UK are thinking about having similar planning policies. The Welsh Assembly Government is proposing 'One Planet Development' as it's national planning vision. There is such a need for people to move back onto the land, to reclaim it with full permission from the establishment. And why not? They need to change the policies to reflect what is essential in these difficult times. And what we all need is real sustainable development, respectful light living. I am not claiming to be perfect, and of course this is only one path of many. But I am very hopeful that what Lammas has achieved will provide a useful example for others to help change policy, and live the way we know we must.
For more about Lammas go to www.lammas.org.uk
You can contact Cassandra via www.livelightly.co.uk. Cassandra is also looking for volunteers to help with building their roundhouse, contact her via email if you are interested.
All images copyright C Lishman 2009
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