Land & freedom? launch of a new land project

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Posted Feb 23 2013 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org

Are the US and the UK free countries? Can there be true freedom if too much wealth (including land) is allowed to accumulate in too few hands? Imagine 100 households living on 500 acres. Each household could have 5 acres, to house themselves, to provide for themselves and to produce a surplus for local markets. That’s freedom.

Alternatively, one household could buy the entire 500 acres and employ the other 99 households as labourers. The 500 acres is still supporting 100 households, but can anyone argue that there’s the same amount of freedom? You could say that the 99 households are free to go somewhere else – but not if they can’t afford it, and not if they are faced with the same kind of wealth accumulation elsewhere. Too much freedom for the few reduces freedom for the many.

In the UK, there are two types of land – first, development land, which is earmarked for buildings. You can build a home on it, but it’s very expensive, and large companies snap most of it up. Then there’s open countryside, which is relatively cheap, but you can’t build a home on it.

There’s a small group called Lammas in Pembrokeshire, in Wales, who have successfully challenged the planning system. They have obtained permission to build homes on their own land, even though it is in the open countryside. They have to abide by criteria they helped to draw up, in partnership with the County Council and the National Parks Authority: they aren’t on mains electricity, gas or sewerage; their homes are limited in size, and the building materials must be local, natural or recycled; they have to make their living from the land; and they can only sell their land and homes at a limited price to other people who must also abide by these criteria. This is an excellent project driven by amazing people. Here is their website.

They have started to build their homes, they are helping other people build natural homes on their smallholdings in Wales, and they have provided inspiration for the Welsh Assembly to introduce TAN 6 (Technical Advice Note 6) – aka ‘One Planet Development’, that will help similar projects to start – in Wales only for the time being, unfortunately.

They are often looking for volunteers to help with building or land-based work. James, who works for Lowimpact.org on the WWOOF contract, recently volunteered with them, helping to construct their wonderful community building. And talking of WWOOF, that’s also a great way to visit Lammas, or other organic farms, smallholdings and ecovillages.

Lowimpact.org attended Lammas’s launch event, Lammas courses are in Lowimpact.org’s programme, and Dave has recently visited Lammas resident Paul Wimbush, author of Birth of an Ecovillage, to talk about starting a Lammas-type ecovillage development in Buckinghamshire.

We’d also be keen to hear your opinions, plus any information you might have about the planning system in other countries.