THE lure of growing your own produce, building your own home and living a low impact life appeals to many people, but few relish the “daunting” process of applying for a One Planet Development in Wales, a report has said.
Only 63 applications have been made between 2010-2021 on the back of a One Planet Development policy aimed at encouraging light-touch living in the open countryside. A total of 39 of them have been approved.
A report by One Planet Council – a voluntary body which promotes such development – has recommended changes to the policy to promote greater uptake.
“The daunting nature of the policy for potential applicants is evident from the fact that there have been only a few dozen applications for One Planet Development planning permission in the whole of Wales in over ten years since the policy was introduced.”
Applicants must submit a significant amount of paperwork as part of their application and thereafter, if their scheme gets the go-ahead. The average time for a planning One Planet Development application to be determined is 68 weeks – the target time is eight weeks.
Planning costs, plus those required to acquire a site, build a home and set up a land enterprise run into the tens of thousands of pounds. The work then required to grow, rear and sell produce is considerable.
Silvia Tippins, who lives in a One Planet Development near Llanboidy, Carmarthenshire, told the One Planet Council:
“Building an eco-house from scratch as well as a land-based business, while managing a day job and raising our two children has been a titanic effort and the toughest challenge of our life.”
She said their smallholding was now “a multi-layered environment that feeds us, nurtures our well-being, increases biodiversity and hopefully shows others that it is possible to live a modern life on the resources of one planet”.
She added: “Our oat milk business has been successful from the word go, with more demand than we can fulfil.”
One Planet Developments must have an ecological footprint of no more than 2.4 hectares and aim to reduce that to 1.88 hectares. They must also produce at least 30% of their food on site, and have “zero carbon” homes powered mainly by renewable energy. Residents must get involved in their local area, report progress annually and commit to creating new habitats.
The One Planet Council report said many over-stretched council planning officers “did not have a clear idea of where to begin” when it came to assessing One Planet Development management plans, and that there was a lack of clarity about responsibility for ongoing reporting and enforcement if new schemes failed to meet key criteria after five years.
The report said on the whole One Planet Developments – many of which are in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire – were over-achieving in terms of their low-impact objectives and that they contributed in many ways to their communities, such as open days, tours and employment.
The report has recommended that the Welsh Government reduces planning complexities and helps local authorities improve their One Planet Development expertise. It also wants more emphasis on such schemes’ low ecological footprint and value for biodiversity, rather than economic productivity.
One Planet Development businesses, it said, generated an income from “marginal agricultural land”, mostly without the benefit of any subsidy, and encouraged more diverse plant and animal life. Those working the land fitted in well locally, sending their children to nearby schools and organising events.
The One Planet Council launched its report at an event in the Senedd hosted by presiding officer, Elin Jones MS.
In response, a Welsh Government spokesman said:
“We welcome the publication of the One Planet Council’s review and will consider its recommendations for developing our planning policy. We were the first administration in the UK to introduce the concept of One Planet Development into the planning system and recognise its contribution to providing people with opportunities to live more sustainably.”
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Peni Ediker, whose One Planet Development was approved six years ago, said of her endeavours:
“It’s lots of hard work, but it’s really rewarding. The really hard bit is growing food – a small-scale market garden – without a tractor. Also, living off-grid you can’t have heated poly-tunnels in the winter, but you’re competing against commercial growers.
“It’s really, really hard to sell high-quality veg, meat, milk, poultry for what it’s worth, as most farmers will agree. Food in general is de-valued.”
Peni grows vegetables and fruit on two hectares of land near Llanboidy, has taken on apprentices and trained budding horticulturists.
Asked what advice she would give someone who was interested in going down the One Planet Development route, she said:
“My general advice is to go and get some experience and see how hard work it is. You need to have skills. You need to be strong. It’s a good dream, but it’s a very, very hard dream.”
The 53-year-old works one or two days a week as a freelance outdoor instructor, and has submitted a key five-year assessment to Carmarthenshire Council. Peni said she took this report very seriously but that it was hard work.
“If you’re a person who naturally works on spreadsheets and monitors everything you buy, then it’s probably a lot easier,” she said.