Eco Settlement Sets a Sustainable Standard
09 Jun 2010
Construction of a groundbreaking low-impact village in Pembrokeshire is now underway, following unprecedented success with planning permission
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The progress of the Lammas community project has opened the door for a revolutionary policy change to be released this summer, allowing for low-impact development across Wales. The project provides an environment where people can live self-sufficiently and in harmony with the land, integrating sustainable technologies and ecological principles, such as permaculture.
Established systems of land tenure and planning restrictions, as well as fears of alternative living, can make it difficult to own and work land communally. In 2006 however, an experimental amendment to planning regulations, Policy 52, was passed in Pembrokeshire, allowing for low-impact, self-build developments. Conditional to stringent environmental, social and economic criteria, prospective residents must demonstrate that they can sustain 75 per cent of their basic needs from the land.
After many years of perseverance and several refused applications, the Lammas project was finally granted its planning permission in August 2009.
Co-founder Paul Wimbush began formulating plans for the eco-development in 2005, coinciding with the amendment. “After the consultation period, in which Lammas worked with planners to refine the policy, we sought residents, land and professional assistance — all of which were forthcoming,” he says. The success of the proposal was mainly due to its infallibility; the geography of the land was analysed and research was conducted to fit all the criteria indisputably.
Sited on 76 acres of mixed pasture and woodland, the eco-village will contain a community hub and nine dwellings, each self-built using a combination of low-cost recycled and natural materials: timber, straw and cob. The architectural designs blend with the surrounding landscape by incorporating features such as turf roofs. The total cost for each plot and building is estimated at ¬£80,000, revealing the potential for affordable homes in the future.
“Lammas now owns the freehold and leases plots to residents through 999-year agricultural contracts. This allows maximum freedom, while ensuring that the long-term aims of the residents and the project are sustained,” Paul explains.
Keeping running costs low, along with carbon emissions, the community will be unconnected from mains services. Water will be taken from an on-site spring and by harvesting rainwater. Wind and water turbines will generate electricity. Heating will come from solar and the fuel of willow and elephant grass, which they will grow themselves. Organic waste and sewage will also be processed on-site.
Residents will make their livelihoods from the land using a diverse range of skills, enabling them to provide for themselves, produce items to sell and teach others. Traditional crafts such as basket making, weaving and woodcraft will be practised alongside low-impact agriculture, based on the smallholding model, producing crops and livestock.
When selecting residents in line with policy requirements, Paul says enthusiasm and commitment were considered more essential than skills and experience, “to demonstrate that this type of project is open to people from all walks of life.”
Lammas aims to show that intensive management would bring benefits to the environment as opposed to exploiting its resources. “The land is looking radiant,” Paul says. “A combination of removing the sheep, planting thousands of trees and digging new ponds and water networks has given it a massive boost in terms of natural biodiversity. Already the mosaic of orchards, gardens, fields and woodland are beginning to emerge. And scattered among this thriving natural world are a series of low-impact building sites.”
The success of this project has influenced the Welsh Assembly to extend the low-impact planning initiative throughout Wales. Lammas shows that by making the most of natural resources, respecting their finiteness and caring for the area’s ecology, humans are able to re-establish a mutually beneficial relationship with nature. As Paul explains: “It’s absolutely imperative that we empower people to generate sustainable lifestyle solutions. For me personally, there’s nothing more rewarding than reforming the intrinsic link between us and the natural world that supports us.”
Contact: Lammas Low-Impact Initiatives
Y Swyddfa, Tir Y Gafel, Pont y Gafel, Glandwr, Pembrokeshire, SA34 0YD
Top: members of the Lammas
community get the go-ahead for their ecovillage
Photo: copyright Lammas Low-Impact Initiatives
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