Local planning authorities can present a huge barrier to social and ecological advancement when elected councillors on planning committees scour planning policies to find ‘reasons’ for rejecting sustainable living ventures.
This is an example from Carmarthenshire, Wales:
Since 2009 the Wales Government has had a pioneer ‘One Planet’ policy to encourage rural enterprises which have ultra-low impact on the Earth’s non-renewable resources, but conservative (small c) councillors often struggle to appreciate the reasons for it — and that’s if they have heard about it at all!
Pioneers of low-impact communities need to be resistant — especially to suspicion and hostility from their longer-established neighbours. This was the case in Carmarthenshire’s Tipi Valley, which the local authority tried to quash, but failed. The settlement now has a much wider impact, as this short extract from my book ‘Solving the Grim Equation‘ indicates:
Tipi Valley is not paradise – too cool and rainy – but people can live there quietly and with very little money. Tipi Valley is a Carmarthenshire low-impact village, founded in 1974 with no permission at all, and the subject of protracted battles with the planning authority, Carmarthenshire County Council. The community describes itself thus, on the alternative communities ‘Diggers and Dreamers’ website:
‘To be honest, we’re a bunch of hippies, some of us ‘originals’. Tipi Valley is high in the Welsh hills, on 200 acres that we have bought bit by bit over 35 years. Our oldest land has already reverted to temperate rainforest. The idea is that we are part of nature, living within nature. Thus all our homes are low-impact dwellings such as tipis, yurts, domes and thatched or turf-roofed round houses. We are a village, not a commune, and everyone is responsible for their own economy. We do not have regular business meetings, and we never vote. It works by consensus and personal relationships.”
Forty years on, Tipi Valley is no longer ‘separate’. Children who grew up in the valley often live more energy-intensive lives than their parents, but possess practical skills which set them apart from children who were raised in houses and who received a conventional, book-based education. They can also support themselves and their families in unpromising surroundings because they have experience of getting by on very little.
These Tipi Valley ‘graduates’ frequently live in houses themselves, but like to stay close to the valley. They are electricians, carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, growers, therapists, often more than one at a time. They socialise and they help each other out, and they are also a bridge between the valley and the surrounding communities. Their parents were much more often English middle-class rebels than Welsh country folk, but several now have a foot in both groups. The original ‘back to Nature’ purpose of Tipi Valley’s founders no longer guides many in the second and third generations, at least not so strongly, but as they integrate into other communities, they bring a rich range of different perspectives. If the founders had not battled for permission to stay, and had meekly left, the story of their experiences, including the capability to adapt to the environment, would be missing.