Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Couple who spent 5 years building eco-home allowed to keep it despite no planning permission

A couple who spent five years living in a tent as they built themselves an eco-home have been allowed to keep it, despite not applying for planning permission because it was 'against their principles'.

Matthew Lepley, 34, and his partner Jules Smith, 54, left their home in a north London tower block and moved to the Devon countryside after buying a 20-acre field near Beaworthy.

Dreaming of 'living at one with nature', the couple spent five years sleeping in a tent and living off the land while they constructed a one-bedroom eco-cabin - complete with compost lavatory - from wooden crates, scrap metal and lorry tyres.

The couple, who shunned power tools and did all the work by hand to cut their carbon emissions, refused to apply for planning permission because they said the process wasted paper and used too much energy.

But their dream was left hanging in the balance when neighbours complained the tumbledown timber dwelling was unauthorised.

Mr Lepley and Ms Smith, both of whom were carers before they moved to Devon, were sent an enforcement notice from Torridge District Council ordering them to 'remove' it from their field in Beaworthy, Devon.
But, in a landmark ruling, planners have praised their 'passion' and 'commitment' to sustainable living, and told them the cabin can stay. 

Despite previous cases of people shunning planning laws being prosecuted, the couple has now been granted permission to leave it untouched for at least three years.

Government planning inspector Gareth Symons said the couple's approach 'sits very comfortably' with new rules issued by the National Planning Policy Framework, which encourage builders to use natural materials to minimise waste and carbon emissions.

Mr Symons described their efforts to live a frugal life at one with nature as 'admirable', and said forcing the pair to leave the handmade home could have a 'devastating impact' on them.

He said: 'It would be very difficult to flaw the passion the appellants have to achieve their permaculture aim, a key part of which is living with nature on the land.

'I am convinced about the genuineness and commitment of the appellants. They are not individuals who simply wish to have a house in the countryside.'

The pair run a smallholding on their land which, if it proves financially viable, may entitle them to retrospective planning permission when the three-year stay elapses.

Their utopian dream to escape the rat race began five years ago when they quit their jobs as carers and Wood Green tower block and moved to their newly-acquired 20-acre field.

They made foundations from old tractor tyres filled with gravel, while the walls and roof were built from discarded haulage pallets and railway sleepers.

But their refusal to use power tools meant that it took them five years to construct the small dwelling which boasts one bedroom, a bathroom with woodfire-heated bath, and an underground storage chamber.  It has no electricity, and food is kept underground to keep it cool.

The couple grow their own fruit and vegetables, have a compost heap for a toilet, and draw water out of the ground with a bore hole.

Neighbours were initially supportive of their ambition to live a self-sufficient lifestyle on the remote woodland plot, but when the couple revealed plans to turn their rustic retreat into a conservation business, hosting workshops in green engineering and 'permaculture', locals changed their tune and complained to the local authority.

Mr Lepley said: 'We wanted to build a home that would let us truly live as one with nature.  This life is not for everyone but we love it - it enables us to live a therapeutic lifestyle and be self-sufficient.

'We took the decision to build without planning permission because the council's procedure is not environmentally friendly enough and it goes against our personal principles.'

A separate application for Mr Lepley to pay the council's costs was also dismissed.

Local residents are 'furious' at the decision to let the couple stay in the wooden house. 

One local resident, who asked not to be named, said: 'If that was me, and I built any sort of addition to my house, the council would come down on me like a tonne of bricks. I had to get permission for my conservatory and it took me so long, but I did it. 

'Now this couple get to come along and just build what they want, with the council unwilling to do anything. It's disgusting how some people are treated one way, and others another.'

Another said: 'It is all well and good them building this so called 'green home', but that doesn't mean they should be allowed to do it without permission. 

'There are laws in place for a reason and for them to be completely ignored is unfair on everyone else who has stuck to them over the years.'

For more information and photos, please see source.