Update: Lammas Ecovillage Initiative Squashed by UK Planning Committee (Again)

lammas ecovillage red tape photo

Lammas' eager pioneers: tied up in red tape.

The Lammas ecovillage initiative, labeled "Wales' greenest planning application" by its supporters, has once again been turned down by a local planning commission. The plan, which was rejected last October but has since been revised and resubmitted, envisions a 74 acre off-the-grid and off-the-pipe village, organized based on permaculture principles.

The Design Commission for Wales, an organization established by the Welsh government in 2002 to promote excellence in design, supported the project, calling it "inspirational" and a "benchmark for environmental rural regeneration."

However, the local Pembrokeshire County Council planning committee voted on September 9 not to approve the plan, based on the claim that "some of the activities and structures on the site are not low impact, the proposal may not be able to provide sufficient livelihood for the residents without working off site and not all adults are necessarily required for the proposal to function."

lammas delivering planning application photo

Bringing the plans for review, June 2007.
Flaws in the Planning Process?

The Pembrokeshire planners' report ignored the Design Commission for Wales' endorsement, relying instead on an assessment by UK environmental consultants ADAS.

"The Design Commission for Wales," Paul Wimbush, coordinator of the Lammas project, told TreeHugger, "is a well respected body, and it is highly unusual for their evidence to be ignored."

In a press release earlier this week, Wimbush had this to say about the Pembrokeshire planning commission's decision to reject the application:

The report contradicts itself over and over again, is misleading and wholly misrepresents our application. I am sad to say that I am not surprised, having experienced unjustified delays, lost files, and a general level of incompetence that leads me to believe that Pembrokeshire planners do not have the resources or skills necessary to be processing such applications.

The planners assured us that our application would be assessed on permaculture principles. On receiving the report, we have found that the entire application has been assessed on standard agricultural criteria and has thus been recommended for refusal. The whole point of the new policy 52 is about creating a lifestyle from the land rather than focusing only on profit. This difference between permaculture and agriculture is crucial.

Policy 52 refers to Pembrokeshire's "low-impact development policy," instituted in 2006, which allows for new "eco-smallholdings" to be built in the countryside, on the condition that they make a positive economic, environmental and social contribution. As of now, three applications for such communities have been submitted, and all three have been rejected.

lammas scale model photo

A scale model of Lammas, made out of recycled and reclaimed materials.
Wales Adopts Sustainable Development Policy

Meanwhile, undeterred by Pembrokeshire's apparent failure to implement its own low-impact development policy, the Welsh Assembly is working on expanding low-impact development policies across Wales, and recently committed itself to building only carbon-neutral housing by 2012.

The gap between a declared policy of promoting sustainable development and the failure to approve plans in practice raises several questions:

Why are plans which attempt to attain a high level of practical sustainability held to an unattainably high standard, while "conventional" plans, which do not pretend to contain any element of ecological responsibility, are not asked to meet any standards of sustainability at all?

Are our planning bureaucracies just too static and fossilized to approve plans which cannot be conveniently defined by the old, familiar technocratic jargon? What will it take for land use technocrats to recognize that sustainability is no longer a novelty, but a necessity?

Paul Wimbush and the rest of the village's future residents, by the way, have not given up on Lammas, and are now planning their appeal to the Welsh Assembly.

More on Lammas:
UK's First Planned Ecovillage Gets Go-Ahead
The TH Interview: Paul Wimbush, Cofounder of Lammas Ecovillage
Lammas Website
Images courtesy of Lammas.

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