Policy encouraging people to ‘live off land’ to be reviewed and potentially put on hold by council

A POLICY which encourages people to live low-impact lives off the land should be reviewed and potentially put on hold, according to Carmarthenshire councillors.

A majority of the Plaid Cymru Independent-led council supported a notice of motion which said a moratorium on the Welsh Government’s one planet development policy (OPD) should be considered.

The motion said there was a perception that the policy was being used to override the county’s over-arching development plan, and added: “This has resulted in considerable resentment by rural residents who find it difficult – if not impossible – to build a new home for younger generations on their land.”

The motion supported the low-carbon ethos of the OPD policy, but said applicants did not need to produce historical evidence of their venture’s viability, unlike rural businesses.

It also said that monitoring the success, or otherwise, of one planet developments was proving problematic due to a lack of expertise.

Cllr Ken Howell said:

“It’s so frustrating, as a farmer, to read some of these (one planet development) applications, because I know they don’t stack up and they will never succeed.”

He said he considered a recent application for a family of six near Llandeilo a “potential health hazard” because the smallholding in question was, he said, too small and lacking mains water and electricity.

Cllr Howell went on:

“I go back to the 70s when we had an influx of what were known at the time as the ‘good lifers’ – also known as hippies – who descended on this part of the world and bought up dilapidated cottages and smallholdings and thought they could live off the land.”

He said after five years all of them had left the area because they were unable to grow the crops they needed.

“Carmarthenshire is famous for growing grass because the climate is suitable and the soil is suitable,” he said.

Referring to the recent Llandeilo application, he said: “It’s not suitable to live off market gardening on just eight acres.”

Cllr Howell suggested that 40 acres for a family of six would be needed.

“The question has been asked, why don’t local people apply for one planet development permission?” he said.

“The simple answer is that local people know that they will not succeed under the OPD plan.”

Cllr Dorian Phillips said a local couple in his Llanboidy ward were unable to get planning consent for a bungalow on seven acres of land they owned, and so they moved out of the area.

“Last year another couple bought this field, applied for a one planet development home and immediately got it, so you can see why the frustration is out in the local areas,” he said.

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“There is one rule for one and one rule for others.”

The motion was put forward by planning committee chairman Cllr Alun Lenny, who said many people felt the OPD policy was “an alien imposition”, although he added that OPD supporters felt the policy’s strict requirements actually made it too difficult to get permission.

“This is a nettle which must be grasped, even if it stings a little,” he said.

Labour councillors speaking against the motion included Cllr Deryk Cundy, although he said he backed the idea of a level planning playing field.

He said the OPD policy was designed for people to live in a carbon-neutral manner, which the council was “actively encouraging people to do”.

Cllr Cundy said national planning policies on one planet developments and “rural enterprise dwellings” for established businesses both had strict measures and were designed for different types of buildings.

He said exemptions under the rural enterprise dwelling guidance were limited, but that the OPD requirements were “extremely strict and draconian in comparison”.

He said there had only been two successful OPD applications in Carmarthenshire in 10 years, and that it was clearly set out that consented schemes which did not meet their targets after five years had to return the land to its previous use and dismantle buildings.

Cllr Ken Lloyd said he disagreed with the motion’s moratorium idea and, citing the council’s own climate emergency declaration last year, added:

“If initiatives such as one planet developments are not championed, how on earth is Carmarthenshire Council going to achieve net zero carbon status by 2030?”

Cllr Bill Thomas said it was not the fault of applicants that planning departments lacked the expertise or resources to assess and monitor one planet developments.

He added:

“Wales is not being flooded by this type of application – around 30, I think, have been approved since 2010.”

Plaid councillor Carys Jones said there were around 41 one planet developments in Wales and that monitoring was “absolutely key”.

She said she had failed to find any completed and published five-year assessment of their performance, as the policy required.

Independent councillor Mair Stephens said 11 OPD schemes had come before the authority, with two approved, eight turned down but then upheld on appeal, and one withdrawn. Two further ones, she said, were pending.

Referring to the monitoring issue, she added: “Any policy is only as good as the operation on the ground.”

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