The TH Interview: Paul Wimbush, Cofounder of Lammas Ecovillage, UK

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Paul Wimbush with model of Lammas.

About a month ago, we announced, with some fanfare, the approval of Lammas, the UK's first planned ecovillage. The Welsh village was to be a 74 acre model settlement, planned according to permaculture principles and completely sustainable from an economic, environmental and social standpoint. As it turns out, Lammas had not yet cleared all of the planning hurdles that it had to pass, and was still waiting for the final word from UK planning authorities. However, despite the mixup, the founders of Lammas told us, "It was great to see the good news there for a moment - a glimpse of things to come!"

In order to set the record straight, and to hear more about the Lammas project, TreeHugger sat down this week with Paul Wimbush - cofounder, project coordinator and future resident (plot 6) of Lammas.

The word "Lammas," by the way, translates literally from Old English as "first loaf," and refers to the old Celtic harvest festival that takes place on the 1st of August (the date on which the ecovillage endeavor happened to be founded).TreeHugger: What is your vision for Lammas? What kind of place will this be?

Paul Wimbush: At its heart, Lammas will be a thriving and abundant eco-hamlet with a strong sense of community. It will become a vibrant hub of inspiration for a local low-impact network. For a while it will be in the national spotlight as it attempts to influence shifting attitudes towards sustainability and development in the countryside.

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Future Lammas residents.
TreeHugger: How did the idea for Lammas develop?

PW: The idea of an ecovillage is not a new one. I reckon the dream of the rural idyll is probably dormant in many of us. If people were given a real choice, I wonder how many would opt for life on an eco-smallholding than life in a modern city? Particularly if it is part of an ecovillage?

Lammas itself formally came into being when Pembrokeshire County launched its new low-impact policy. This seemed too good an opportunity to pass by. We set out to create a flagship project that would pilot, highlight and research the potential of low-impact development to create a truly sustainable rural model.

TreeHugger: What exactly is a "low impact development" policy?

PW: Pembrokeshire's low-impact policy allows for new-build smallholdings to be established in the open countryside as long as they fall within strict eco-criteria. The policy came about as a result of a local agenda 21 initiative in which Pembrokeshire County Council asked the people of Pembrokeshire what sustainable developments they wanted to see in place.

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Delivering the plans for Lammas to the planning authorities, June 2007.
TreeHugger: Despite the fact that such a policy was put in place, Lammas still had problems getting through the planning system. What were the difficulties that you encountered with the planning system?

PW: The new policy requires a huge amount of detailed design work to be done before permission is granted. The local planning authority refused our original application basically on the grounds of insufficient information on vehicle generation targets and crop yields. The revised application has covered these points in detail.

Lammas has actively consulted local people on the project. There has been a mixed reaction from local people. There is some very active opposition to the project as well as some very sincere support. All the feedback that we have had from local people has played a key part in the projects development.

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Architectural sketches of a house in Lammas.
TreeHugger: The plans for Lammas (which can be viewed on the village's website) are extremely comprehensive, and cover almost every aspect of the future functioning of the village. What kind of process led to the formulation of these plans?

PW: Lammas brought in a Permaculture Consultant (Designed Visions) to facilitate the design process. This involved gathering a huge amount of baseline data (everything from habitat surveys, geology surveys, local concerns, our aims, local history, existing models and precedents, local market research, the skills of the potential residents etc) and then slowly working through concepts and designs until reaching an integrated pattern in which all design elements were considered successful.

lammas-first-conceptual-drawing.jpgLeft: An early conceptual drawing of the village.
TreeHugger: Do you see Lammas as a model for future development in rural areas of the United Kingdom? What are the economic and environmental implications of such a model?

PW: Low-impact development could have significant implications for how we consider rural land use. You can take an example from our application. Currently the 76 acres produces approximately £2,500 lamb a year and is a fraction of one families income. By year 5 Lammas expects to be producing £108,000 produce from the 76 acres and wholly support 9 families. In addition to this there will be a quantifyable environmental, economic and social benefit.

In terms of visual impact, you simply won't see our project from nearby roads and houses — it has been designed to disappear into the landscape. You will only be able to see it when you are next to it and, because it is largely designed using natural materials from the site— timber, earth, turf roofs etc, it will sit naturally in the landscape. In fact one of the planning criterea is that any such developments blend into the landscape.

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The site today: pasture, farms and ponds.
TreeHugger: Where do things stand right now with regard to Lammas' planning and development?

PW: We are optimistic that this time we will have the support of the planning authority and will thus get a green light this summer (July 2008). That being so, we would expect development to begin during the autumn/ winter 2008. We would expect all construction to be completed and the site up and running by autumn 2011.

TreeHugger: What kind of reactions do you hear from the public regarding Lammas? What about decision-makers on the local and national level?

PW: The support that we have received from public and professionals alike has been influential and inspirational. As a voluntary organization we rely heavily on donations, and investment from our members.

If our society is really going to address the challenge of sustainability, it will require cooperation between people, business and government. Lammas is a grassroots organization run by lay people and we welcome political and professional assistance. In terms of national policy, I think the need for truly sustainable development is now accepted as an urgent priority.

All images courtesy of Paul Wimbush and Simon Dale.

Tags: Architecture | Permaculture

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