Monday, 30 July 2007

Welsh eco-house 'not green enough'

When it comes to "green" living, Tony Wrench and his partner Jane Faith believed they were as enviromentally-friendly as is possible to be.

Built of timber and roofed with turf, their eco-roundhouse in west Wales - dubbed The Hobbit House by locals - appeared to tick all the boxes.

Insulated with straw, its electricity generated by solar panels and wind power, and using water from a mountain stream, it has been home to the couple and their low-carbon lifestyle for ten years now.

Even the toilet is "green", using a composting and reed bed system to deal with waste naturally.

But, apparently, its not "green" enough, according to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, who have decided the house in Brithdir Mawr, Newport, does not meet its low-impact development policy.

The couple has now been ordered to demolish the house, which was built on private land at a cost of £3,000 and was unknown to the authorities until it was photographed from the air.

A park planning committee decided the building "failed to make a positive environmental impact" and was "not sustainable".

An ecologist's report to the meeting said it was "likely to have an impact on protected species such as dormice, bats and invertebrates" and concluded that if permission were granted, similiar properties would spring up causing "severe degradation of the National Park landscape."

Now the couple, who make a modest income from woodcraft, woollen rugs and music, have vowed to take their case to the Welsh Assembly in the latest stage of a long-running planning row over the building.

Mr Wrench, 61, said he was "stunned" by the ruling.

The couple grow their own fruit and vegetables, manage without a fridge or washing machine, and a study has confirmed their "carbon footprint" is just a fraction of the national average.

"We are doing everything we possibly can to reduce our carbon footprint. It's about as low as we can get and it demonstrates that an enviromentally sustainable lifestyle is possible," he said.

"So it is complete nonsense what they are saying. We will appeal against it - if not for us, but for all the other people who want to live in a way which is less harmful to the planet."

"There is a need for radical changes in the way we plan for, design and build homes, so we are very disappointed by the decision.

"The house is so beautiful to be in, and the garden so fruitful and bursting with life of all kinds, that I still cannot believe that in a world of such environmental spoilation and with spreading patches of such ugliness, there are still people paid to work on having this home demolished," added Mr Wrench, a wood-turner by trade.

One of the objections to the house was that it was thought that a woodland was not able to provide a sustainable source of fuel and crafts for the couple.

Ifor Jones, the authoritiy's head of conservation, admitted that the rules were strict but they applied to everyone, he said.

"Yes, we do have high hurdles but it is important that any development enhances the environment, rather than detracts from it, " he said. "In this instance the location of the roundhouse and vegetable garden within an area of semi-natural vegetation, comprosing woodland edge and unimproved wet grassland, is considered to have had negative impacts.
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