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Below are our comments on the Snowdonia National Park’s statement of case and attached are appendices relating to the appeal. A copy of this document and the attached appendices have also been sent to the Snowdonia National Park.
COMMENTS ON THE SNOWDONIA NATIONAL PARK’S STATEMENT OF CASE.
[The numbered sections refer to the sections in the Park’s statement]
We consider that the guidance given in Planning Guidance (Wales)-Planning Policy is entirely appropriate and relates to the functional and financial tests. No clear requirements are given, in particular for the financial test (ie. such as sterling income per annum), on the contrary, as far as we can see, without having received any additional guidance from the SNP, each case should be assessed on its own merits and the financial income required will be dependant on the needs and lifestyle of the occupants. In our opinion, our holding generates an income which is entirely adequate for our needs and increases each year.
The development does not contravene policy T2 in the Eryri Local Plan. We consider that there is an essential and proven need for the dwelling which cannot be met in any other way or by a dwelling in any other location. See the functional test for evidence of need and appendix A for lack of local accommodation in the community of Hermon.
The development meets the criteria of the Eryri Local Plan AM2 as follows:
i) One or more workers (1.5 full time workers) need to be readily available at most times. See details provided in the Functional test.
ii) The only existing building on the holding is a functional barn which, although we believe would be possible to adapt sympathetically, would not result in as energy efficient a dwelling as the proposed low impact house. Conversion of the barn would then also require the construction of a replacement. There is no available housing in reasonable proximity to the holding (see appendix A).
iii) We have not sold or disposed of other housing or suitable buildings with conversion potential, within the last 5 years, or indeed ever, which would have been capable of meeting this need.
iv) Given the diversification of the holding and the acceptance by the SNP of all proposed activities through the granting of successive temporary permissions in previous applications (4/5/95, 8/10/98, 11/4/01) the property will be used solely for the residential use of an agricultural worker and not as visitor accommodation.
v) The proposal accords with policies AM1 and T 8 (see 4.5 below)
The development complies with AM1 as follows:
i) The location is extremely unobtrusive in the landscape, being largely invisible from public roads and does not harm the amenity of local residents or visiting public, in fact it enhances them.
ii) The building’s design, scale and materials are entirely sympathetic to its environment and enhance its surroundings. See below also.
iii) It does not result in loss of any agricultural land or harm any features of wildlife or historic interest.
iv) It requires no new roads. There are no objections from Gwynedd Council Highways department.
v) Servicing does not require road improvement and the level of traffic to and from the site does not harm the amenity of local residents; indeed, occupation of the site reduces the amount of road traffic.
vi) Any potential pollution issues have been satisfactorily mitigated through planning conditions attached to the previous temporary permissions, according to the requirements of the environmental agency.
vii) The siting and extent of excavations and waste deposits associated with agricultural operations have minimum possible impact on the environment of the Park.
The development complies with T8 as follows:
The design is of high quality and takes account of scale, density, height, massing, layout, access and the use of materials to ensure sympathy with its surroundings. In particular the use of Douglas Fir within the surrounding Douglas Fir plantations, the relation of the gables and height of the building to the existing barn, the sympathetic use of turf to minimise visual impact. Similarly, the generous landscaping around the dwelling which enhances the site and softens its impact on its surroundings. No existing landscape feature will be disturbed and native species have been encouraged already as part of the general development of the holding.
The development would satisfy all the statements relating to Policy P2 in the Eryri Local Plan as follows:
i) The viability of local services are supported through our occupation of the site and in particular the community of Hermon which has suffered considerable loss of population and housing stock over the last few decades (see annex A).
ii) The development enhances the quality of the environment (see SNP Ecologist’s report) and avoids pollution through the use of renewable resources and materials and recycling of waste products.
iii) The development uses the resources of the National Park efficiently (Douglas Fir from sustainably managed forestry within walking distance of the holding, milled locally) and promotes the use of renewable resources (wind, solar and water power).
iv) The development minimises the need for unnecessary motorised transport movements as opposed to previous commuting to the site from rented accommodation during the nineteen eighties and promotes the use of alternative non-polluting forms of transport such as mountain biking and horses.
v) The development incorporates the concept of good building design and improves energy and water conservation.
vi) The development improves the quality and speed of information transmission through the dissemination of data using the new media of local and global electronic networks (for example, the Welsh Timber Forum network E-Coed and the Internet including our web site www.konsk.co.uk) and existing media of magazines and books (for example, Permaculture Magazine, Permaculture Works).
vii) The development reuses land which was degraded and species poor through the cycle of ploughing, re-seeding and continuous livestock ranching. The development is increasing the lands water storage capacity, soils and bio-diversity.
viii) The development enhances the special qualities of the area (nature conservation, Tyddynwyr, land based enterprise, sustainable development, integrated communities, traditional values) and the public’s enjoyment of those qualities, now and in the future (guided tours, visitors, courses, talks, information).
We believe the development would comply with Policies TA 10 and TA 11 at least in part. In particular the design (TA10) which borrows from the existing barn and avoids the "cabin" type appearance often associated with timber, and the landscaping (mentioned above). TA 11 encourages the use of local materials and certainly the proposed material of Douglas Fir and Cedar are extremely local to the holding (within easy walking distance). Timber framed buildings are increasingly appearing in the landscape and the Park has previously granted permission for timber extensions considerably larger than the proposed dwelling.
If the document bundle enclosed with the SNP statement of case is as was sent to committee members prior to the 24/1/01 meeting then I was in error in suggesting that the committee members had not received any of our supporting documents. If this is indeed the case then I apologise for any misunderstanding I may have generated. I have not had the opportunity to verify this with a committee member and the agenda and plannig documents present at the meeting and in the local library contained none of our material. However, see below.
Given that the application for a permanent dwelling represents the culmination of over fifteen years work, eleven of those as site occupants and thus a considerable body of documentry evidence including books, magazine articles and videos, it is inevitable that only a small percentage of that material could be offered to committee members. We feel that it was unfortunate that written documentation relating to the traditional patterns employed in Permaculture Design and their relation to local traditions and practices (such as exchange and barter) were not given more weight. We have always emphasised that Permaculture Design builds on existing community patterns and allows opportunity for their further developments, thus offering genuine support to traditional rural communities. At least one committee member recognised this but it was unclear whether they saw this as a good or bad thing.
Similarly, it was clear from the discussion in the committee that many members simply did not understand the distinctions between the functional and financial tests nor their application and considerable confusion arose over this issue.
We fully accept that committee members may not have sufficient opportunity to read everything that is sent to them and hence, we would argue, that a clear, concise definition of Permaculture and Low Impact dwelling in the planning officer’s report would have been useful.
As it happened, the discussion in committee, which touched on the Assembly’s report into diversification and low impact development, concluded that further guidance was required from the Assembly on the whole subject, hence, to a certain extent, this appeal.
With the above in mind, and believing that the committee had not received adequate information, we presented members with our own definitions at the conclusion of the site visit. It should be pointed out that only one question was asked of me at the site meeting, with no warning or opportunity to consider a reply. We found the site visit extremely stressful and disappointing for reasons mentioned in our written statement and do not consider that any real assessment was made or appreciation of what was taking place. It is obvious to us now that a committee largely made up of people from livestock farming backgrounds will not necessarily be able to recognise productive plants in complex, mixed systems or native species, other than the commonest, particularly in late January, when little is visible above the surface. A good deal of the stress, for us, of the site visit arose because of incorrect or inappropriate judgements and remarks by some committee members and officers with no opportunity for us (or anyone else) to point out their fallacy. (see appendix C, as an example).
We would suggest some weight at least should be given to the observations of the Authority’s Environmental Policy Officer Co-ordinator and Ecologist because 1) they have obviously read and understood the supporting documents presented over the past ten years and 2) they have visited the site on at least three occasions and asked pertinent questions relating to yield and progress. The fact that the Agricultural Officer considers himself not to be in a position to comment on the holding emphasises the at present inadequate systems in place for the development of sustainable, self-funding, productive systems that are free to follow their own evolutions. (See appendix B)
While arguing that the financial details be kept confidential, the Planning officer included in his report spurious figures which showed the financial accounts in the most detrimental light possible. It is difficult to reconcile his intention to maintain confidentiality with his action of reproducing these figures in a public document. Further, we were led to believe that confidential documents would be shown to all the Park officers yet it is clear from the Environmental Policy Officer Co-ordinator’s report that he had no chance to see them.
As far as we can see, two written requests could be said to merit the definition "repeated".
As mentioned above, the application relates to development over a considerable period of time. We did not repeat earlier definitions, accounts, practices, figures, designs etc. etc. nor the importance of allowing the design to develop over time, remaining flexible and taking advantage of changes in markets, without developing dependence on subsidies. It is this flexible approach that has allowed us to generate not inconsiderable incomes (certainly when compared to average farm incomes) from a variety of related sources, which provide resources and raw materials for each other; ie. an integrated system.
For the 1995 application we were asked to submit various supporting documents including targets set for the next three years. Target D is as follows (emphasis added):
"The continuation of the training and use of horses for timber extraction on environmentally sensitive sites locally, in particular the Forest Nature
Reserve which surrounds us."
Training of horses was thus mentioned as a specific and ongoing target in the 1995 documents. The permission was renewed on these grounds and no comments were made by Park Officers at that time.
We have never said that we were intending to follow conventional forms of income generation so it seems unfair to be criticised for not doing this. Education in Permaculture Design is not a conventional form of income generation yet it is one of our principle incomes and has been from the beginning. Horses are now the third largest element in the rural economy, not including the racing industry (tourism first, then conventional farming, then the horse industry) and, as we are sure the Park are aware, there are major discrepancies between British and European laws and regulations relating to horses and agriculture. While this is not necessarily the place to discuss European law, it should be emphasised that the 1998 renewal was accepted as it stood, including the training of horses, with no comments or conditions attached to the renewal of temporary permission for an agricultural worker in that regard.
With regard to income from outside sources, clear explanations have been provided as to the reasons and the temporary nature, yet these have largely been ignored. It seems that once again we have been too honest and would have been better off not including any details of external income in our submission.
The Planning Officer suggests here that "ample opportunity" had been provided for the applicants. Yet the Park has freely admitted its lack of understanding or knowledge relating to the development of sustainable systems so to suggest that there is some minimum time limit is inappropriate, particularly when tree crops are involved. Some of the rotations on the holding are 120 years- yet we see this as medium term thinking.
Sustainable development cannot and should not be rushed; if it is we will end up with expensive disasters which offer nothing to rural economies or communities. The development of this holding costs the tax payer nothing and no one has objected to it during the time of our occupation other than Park officials.
Further, the fact that we have proceeded from temporary permission to temporary permission, with no guarantee that the Park would renew, has placed constraints on our endeavours; it is not as though we were given ten years to begin with and therefore able to plan investment accordingly.
The temporary permission was renewed only once due to Lyn suffering cancer; we are grateful to the Park for that renewal.
Nowhere in the Park’s written statement or in any communication received by us over the past eleven years has there been any clear indication of what would make the holding viable. It seems then that viability comes down to a matter of personal opinion which seems patently unfair. We would also once again emphasise the Environmental Policy Officer’s statement that;
"the stringent tests that the Dixons have had to go through- ......have been far more stringent than are applied to ‘ordinary’ agricultural workers’ dwellinghouse applications".
We would argue the point that "most of the appellant’s statement ...refers to projected income and refer to the point made in 5.12 above, regarding time.
Similarly with income from outside work (now not required, as stated in previous documents) which was necessary for the following reasons (as stated previously and largely ignored):
i) to pay for investments and developments on the site, because the temporary nature of the permission precluded us from obtaining business grants and loans.
ii) to raise capital through a personal loan to pay for developments and investments and pay off the loan (now paid off).
iii) to pay off debts incurred as a result of Lyn’s cancer (now paid off).
We are now in the enviable position of having no major debts or mortgage and being able to generate an income sufficient to support ourselves and further develop the site over time. We would thus consider that all the necessary elements have been successfully introduced through dint of our own hard work and the support of others, including the local community, and that the holding is both viable and sustainable.
The final point in this section is decidedly shaky, referring to us being able to keep horses elsewhere and we are not sure what it means. We do not keep horses in the first place but rather take clients’ horses for training and we have no other holding or land where they could be kept.
The Park repeats statements made within the body of the document and we have provided comments relating to them already.
We would only add here that the Park are entirely correct to view our holding as an experiment; our only proviso to that would be that it is, and will always be, an ongoing experiment. However, we disagree completely with the Park in considering it to be a failure, for reasons given above and in our own statement of case. On the contrary, we would suggest, as do many others today, that so-called conventional, modern, subsidised, non-organic, livestock farming has failed, as has been demonstrated clearly over the last decade and even more so during this year.
In complete contrast, the traditional, organic, multiple yield, integrated systems which sustained flourishing communities locally, within living memory, represent hugely valuable models that can provide patterns for the sustainable systems of the future as well as revitalising rural communities today. We believe our holding is a modest but appropriate step in that direction and hence deserving of support.
Comments on the List of conditions that Authority would favour if appeal were to be allowed.
1. To place a temporary permission on the low impact dwelling seems unnecessarily petty and has no grounds in current policy (as far as we are aware). We would suggest that our own Criteria for the assessment of sustainable (permaculture) holdings are far more appropriate and provide much more control.
2. We consider this to be an entirely appropriate condition.
3. We consider this to be unrealistic. As mentioned in our first letter to the Inspectorate, the plans submitted to the Park were initially intended for an outline application which, at the suggestion of the Park, was then made into an application for full permission. However, the Building Inspectorate (who have no objections to the building) will require architectural drawings and have made a number of suggestions regarding minor alterations. The overall appearance and dimensions will remain the same.
4. We consider this condition to be of dubious value. Douglas Fir and Cedar weather to an attractive and unobtrusive grey-silver which blends with landscapes throughout the different seasons of the year and, in our opinion, is far more harmonious with the surroundings than artificial stains.