It's not always a smooth run when setting something up which challenges the preconceptions of our time, or status-quo of our local community.
Down in Devon there has been mixed news in the permaculture world, some positive, and others as yet uncertain.
Steward Community Woodland is currently awaiting a decision from the Planning Inspectorate following a four day Public Inquiry as to whether or not they will be allowed to keep living in the woods they have made home for the last 16 years.
This is the fourth appeal carried out by the Steward Woodland Community against planning refusals and Enforcement Notices issued by the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA), and they are not alone.
At their appeal in May, Steward Woodland had significant local community support and national coverage, including a rousing speech made by the vicar of Morton Hempstead. But it is hard to tell which way the wind blows when it comes to development of this nature within a National Park, and if upheld by the Inspector (as the previous three appeals have been) will be the first time a permaculture community has been granted permanent permission to reside within a National Park.
However some may argue that these sorts of low Impact Living Initiative are particularly fitting for our National Parks, seemingly supporting the aims stated in the UK Government Vision and Circular 2010 for National Parks in 2030 to be 'thriving, living, working landscapes notable for their natural beauty and cultural heritage. They inspire visitors and local communities to live within environmental limits and to tackle climate change’ and ‘are known for having been pivotal in the transformation to a low carbon society and sustainable living' (English National Parks and the Broads, UK Government Vision and Circular 2010).
Could it be argued that permaculture led development is the ideal vehicle to deliver these aims?
Meanwhile, next door in the South Hams, permaculture project 'Landmatters Community' have been awarded permanent planning permission for a pioneering living project just outside Totnes. Hooray - it is not always a difficult journey. In 2015, rather than applying for full planning permission, Landmatters asked for the removal of a condition requiring the 5-year renewal of temporary permission, and hey-presto, they can now live without the threat of enforcement demanding them to leave the land they have made home and nurtured into a permaculture garden since 2007.
But what happens when the winds of authority don't blow in the right direction, and the project you have set your heart and mind to becomes marooned in the rough seas of planning refusals, Enforcement Notices, and the ensuing appeal crunch?
I am the owner of 'The Hillyfield', 45 acres of ancient woodland and organic pasture on the edge of Dartmoor and I have this simple message: 'Don't let the planners get you down'.
Without doubt it can be an uphill struggle working within the planning system, let alone against it, but it doesn't need to be a battl. I know. I am currently preparing for a Public Inquiry in order to keep managing my land for environmental and community benefit.
The Hillyfield has been an example of small woodland regeneration for the last six years, winning 2nd prize in 2014 at Devon County Show for best mixed-objective woodland. We are working towards a permaculture inspired woodland project, but from inside out – from zone 7 inwards.
There is no residential aspect at the Hillyfield, and as yet we are growing no crops. Our original plans have been completely thrown by the discovery of disease in the trees in 2011, and this has meant that all our attention and work has been geared towards removing all Japanese Larch (under order due to a Statutory Plant Health Notice) and replanting with mixed broadleaf.
In just five years, we have invested a massive 26,000 working hours with the help of volunteers to deal with the disease in the trees, as well as plant five acres of new mixed-broadleaf woodland, a traditional apple orchard, herb garden, willow osier, and establish an organic chicken business selling eggs and breeding hens and ducks. The Hillyfield also provides home-grown timber for customers in the local area, selling firewood and planks cut on their mobile sawmill - and this is where the planning trouble has begun.
In order to keep managing the woodland for environmental and community benefit, care for the 7000 trees they have planted and make good use of the timber being felled, The Hillyfield applied for permission for a wood-drying barn and machinery store under permitted development rights. Despite the full support of the Forestry Commission and a written report by forestry advisors John Clegg Consulting, DNPA refused permission stating that ‘The barns are not considered necessary for forestry'.
As soon as The Hillyfield appealed this decision, DNPA issued two Enforcement Notices claiming a change of use of the land to 'residential, recreational and the running of courses and activities, with or without payment and available to the public’, and the immediate removal of all temporary structures on site. Even the compost toilets have to go.
Without these simple structures, I don’t see how we can run a viable business to keep caring for the land, let alone provide volunteer opportunities and community events. There just doesn't seem to be a place for a project like ours within the planning system' says Doug, busily trying to raise the £35,000 he needs to engage a barrister and lawyer to represent The Hillyfield at a Public Inquiry.
Without all the creative input and support we have had, I think this appeal could have been a breaking point. I am very grateful to a wide network of colleagues, friends, family, and locals who have rallied behind the Hillyfield Appeal which has now become a full time activity, taking me away from the work in the woods.
You just mustn't let the planners get you down.
The Hillyfield Appeal is an example of how what can initially be seen as a negative situation can actual empower a community, facilitate people to stand up for what they believe in, and hopefully catalyse positive change in our communities’.
‘Planning Law itself is pretty black and white, as well as exceptionally complex. There are layers upon layers of formalities that must be correctly followed throughout the process of issuing an Enforcement Notice, or lodging an appeal, and any deviation could be a reason for dismissal, or either party involved issuing a claim for costs.
This is definitely the realm for legal expertis and I am grateful for the support of my solicitor, the head of planning at Stephens Scown, but this does not come cheap. I had to launch a crowdfunder to support the appeal. Within the first week we have raised 26% of our £35,000 target, mainly from our local community. But we now need to get the word out far and wide to raise the rest. We have some fun and creative ideas for how we can do this.
I've been organising a local fundraising gig to help pay for work in the woods for the past five years called Acoustic Haven, and when I put the word out to our mailing list some of the artists responded with original tracks written in response to our story. We now have a fantastic original Hillyfield Appeal E.P. featuring five awesome tracks which is part of our crowd-Funding rewards.
We are also organising an exclusive event called ‘The Great Celebration’ for supporters of the Appeal Crowd-funder on 28th August, including an organic feast, and live music with none other than Martha Tilston, Alex Roberts and Nathan Ball! Also story-telling with School of Myth founder Martin Shaw and friends, and star-gazing with Dartmoor Skies.
Local businesses have offered oodles of support in kind to help us raise the funds.
Visit the crowdfunder to see what is on offer including Original Artworks, Workshops, Wooden Products, Massages, Great food and more.
And the creativity doesn’t stop there. Local film-makers Annabel Allison from Wax Films and Andy Brown from DeFacto have supported the project by making two fantastic film pieces. Watch them on the Hillyfield Youtube Channel here www.youtube.com/channel/UC7bzsleEV_UKJ7ki4Qo-v_A
The Hillyfield Appeal still has a way to go, so if you can help in any way, spread the word, or offer encouragement, then now is the time.
The date of the Public Inquiry is yet to be set and is likely to be sometime in October or November and all are welcome.
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