Family appeals decision blocking bid to live sustainably on land they own
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
A teacher who wants to live among the crops he is growing on a patch of land in Carmarthenshire is appealing a decision by councillors, and “regrettably” putting in for costs.
Stephen Morris applied to build a timber-clad three-bedroom property on land he owns north of Llandeilo.
He wants to live there with his partner – music therapist Amy Slater – and their four-year-old son.
The application, under the Welsh Government’s One Planet Development policy, set out in detail how the couple intended to create a low-impact horticulture enterprise, plus meadows and re-wilding areas.
They plan to keep bees, and supplement their income with music therapy sessions, guided hiking and selling vegetable boxes.
Mr Morris’s application was recommended for approval when it came before Carmarthenshire’s planning committee but a majority of councillors voted against it. The debate became rather heated at times.
Mr Morris is appealing.
“I think we’ve got a very strong case,” said the 45-year-old.
“The council’s planning department supported us, independent assessors supported us.”
Mr Morris said he has instructed a legal professional to represent him at the appeal, which will be determined by a Welsh Government-appointed planning inspector.
Citing the time and expenses involved in the process, Mr Morris said: “Regrettably, we are going to have to put in for costs.”
He said he was very aware that taxpayers’ money was at stake if the costs decision was to go his way.
“I feel guilty about that,” he said.
But he felt some councillors on the committee seemed dead set on rejecting the application, despite the evidence from planning officers before them.
There were 43 letters of support for his proposal and nine objections, but because no objectors came forward to address the committee, no supporters could either.
“I think if we were there, they (the committee) would have realised that we’re decent, educated people,” said Mr Morris.
“We’re not geniuses, but we’re not idiots. We’re just normal people. We’re not extremists.”
Mr Morris was an engineer before re-training as a teacher. He works at a special needs school in the Penarth area of Cardiff, where he and his family live.
He said he and his partner’s greatest passion was the environment.
“We want to leave a better planet behind for our children – it sounds a cliche, but it’s how we feel,” he said.
“We thought with the One Planet Development policy, here is our chance to make a difference and hopefully inspire others.”
The couple began looking for a suitable site, and happened upon the one north of Llandeilo after meeting a family who lived adjacent to it at a training course.
Mr Morris said he also discovered that the landowner wanted to sell the site to someone who wanted to improve its biodiversity or establish a One Planet Development scheme.
It helped too that Miss Slater grew up in the area and that the couple have friends there.
They bought the land after selling their Penarth home. They moved into a rented one-bedroom flat in Penarth before the Covid pandemic hit, and more recently upgraded to a two-bed flat.
Once or twice a week Mr Morris visits his land and to date has planted more than 2,000 trees and shrubs, various vegetables in 19 raised borders, and 150m of hedgerow.
He’s created a new entrance for the site, dug ditches to improve the drainage, and has already sold produce to a pub, restaurant and cafe.
His winter crops are in, and he reckoned he’s got a tonne of pumpkins to harvest.
Mr Morris said he emailed several councillors to introduce himself and invite them over to the site.
He said only one of them, Llandeilo councillor and then mayor Owen James, took up the offer.
Mr Morris said submitting a One Planet Development application was “a monumentally difficult task”.
“It has taken us years of research,” he said.
Supporting documents ran into hundreds of pages and included a management plan, ecological assessment, and ecological footprint calculation.
The reports set out how the family of three would produce 44% of their basic food needs from the land and supplement this with income from selling vegetable boxes and other activities, such as the music therapy sessions, or bartering.
Some councillors questioned why they needed to live on site, particularly as no livestock would be kept there.
One of them said it would be more environmentally-friendly for them to live in an existing house nearby.
Mr Morris said many existing houses had a high carbon footprint because they didn’t retain heat well, and that living away from the site would mean daily trips to and from in a car.
He also said there was a housing shortage in rural areas, which he would not contribute to if he could build a low-impact, energy-efficient home on his land.
Mr Morris said if the refusal decision was overturned at appeal, he and his partner would turn their attention to the new dwelling and leave their current school jobs in a phased manner.
In the meantime, they intend to plant another 2,000 trees and shrubs and develop their horticulture enterprise.
The family opposite, who they met at the training course, gained One Plan Development consent for their site.
Mr Morris said their children were great with his four-year-old son, who enjoyed visiting the site.
“He loves going down there, he gets excited as there are young children and animals next door,” he said.
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