My appeal date has been decided. It will be on the 18th March at the community hall in Maenclochog at 10am. If you’d come to my funeral, then come to this instead, as that will be much more productive.
Finally there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The culmination of lots of hard work, heartbreak, ups and downs and round and rounds. OPD is, in its current form an absolute nightmare. The application process is long and arduous. The level of detail required is immense. The emotional impact of putting all you have into a mission, and then having months, if not years of waiting to get it through, of arguments, objections, form filling; it’s a massively stressful thing to do. On March 18th I finally get the chance to state my case at the public hearing, a site visit will happen, (there will be cake) and then a few days later I’ll get my decision.
If I fail, I’m not sure what I’ll do next. Some people in this position just carry on. It becomes a case of putting more money in the machine. Like Space Invaders. Two applications and an appeal… dead, dead dead. Three lives gone. Put another coin in.
Cornerwood in Ceredigion finally achieved planning at the high court last year, only to be now told they’re being taken to court again. After three appeals and a high court appearance already in the bag, estimates are that it has so far cost Ceredigion council somewhere in the region of 100k to fight this small group of people who want nothing more than to live and work on their own land. It was all over. Now it’s starting up again. I salute the strength of the inhabitants there. They’re hardcore. I’m not sure I could play that game.
Some people go to court and refuse to leave their land anyway, preferring instead to pay the fine over a long amount of time. That’s not a bad option. A slow paid fine is pretty cheap rent.
But what I decide to do after that initial refusal at appeal, well, that remains to be seen. I could just keep fighting with fresh coins. I could run away to Portugal. I could go crazy.
There is that famous story of Albert Dryden from County Durham, who shot the planning officer dead when he turned up with bulldozers to knock his house down. He also shot a policeman and a news reporter. At the court hearing he was deemed sane, but having been through the process myself, I can absolutely confirm that he was anything but. He was jailed for life.
How is it possible to stay sane through such a process? A process we only undertake because we’re trying to escape the insanity of a world where consumerism is king,and it’s all about the latest sofa, toaster, or foodbank, depending on what end of the spectrum you reside. My neighbour once called me mental. Saying I must be for wanting to do this. She’s right. I am mental. But not in the way she thinks. Doing what I’m doing is a good thing. Mental is paying 280k for a prefab.
I have a lot of friends who live on council estates or in overpriced private rentals in the county that say they’d love to be doing what I’m doing. That is, OPD, not being hauled over the coals by the gerontocracy.
So. Could this not be an answer to our predicaments? The housing need in Pembrokeshire is huge, the situation is dire. The housing benefit bill is enormous. It would be cheaper and a lot more sensible, when the council discuss their future LDP, to suggest that farmland near to towns or on bus routes could be purchased for the purpose of OPD villages.
Instead of being dumped in a council house, you’re able to live on the land, help build your own home, learn new skills, grow your food. Kids on these sites would learn basic skills like tree identification, gardening. Taking responsibility for the land. And the biggest benefit? Many of these people are so distressed by their grey future in crappy, mouldy social housing, trapped in a benefits loop, that their depression gets the better of them. From my own mental health point of view, I know that waking up to nature and birdsong, with an itinerary of work for the day that is both rewarding and humbling, physical work, planning, things to build and use transferable skills, goes a long way to reducing the need for copious amounts of prozac. Think of how much the NHS spends on anti depressants. And though clearly there are real clinical needs for some drugs, in many cases, depression is manageable by lifestyle changes.
Diet changes occur naturally when you’re growing veg and making soup out of what’s available. Nothing is more exciting than collecting stuff from the garden for dinner, being inventive with what’s in season. Nothing is more engaging than caring for chickens and collecting eggs. Or caring for other animals, whether pets and livestock. These are things that kids used to do a lot, and now they don’t. 50s council houses had big gardens. It was accepted that people wanted to grow veg and have outdoor space. Now council houses are packed in as tightly as possible. How is anyone supposed to breathe? Or think? Let alone grow anything.
As communities, think of what could be achieved. Friendly environments where childcare is shared and the group contributes their different skills and learns new ones. Eco houses can be built for as little as five grand. They can be made modular to easily accommodate extra bedrooms if needed, when new child arrives, or an elderly relative needs to be with family.
Think of the cash saved by the NHS, the fall in cases of depression, the improved mental health benefits of such a scheme, the way that families could care for elders in mixed age households with plenty of support and help. A return to the extended family model. The village model. The community model.
No housing benefit bills for single parents as they would be in a home that is already paid for. Homes would be off grid, run on solar power and wind. No electricity bills. Rainwater harvesting means no water bills. Super insulated homes means low heating bills. The bane of peoples’ lives, bills – all gone in one fell swoop. All you have to find money for is council tax and internet.
OPD has the potential to solve so many problems, not only locally, but nationally too. It needs much adjusting, but instead of fighting it, councils should be working out the best ways to utilise it.
If people are upset by people moving to Wales to do OPD, as Stephen Crabb claims, then he could help to campaign to make it possible in the rest of the the UK. There’s plenty of land around. It’s not the Industrial Revolution anymore. We don’t all need to be packed tightly into the cities. We can go back to the land we should never have left.
There are plenty of subsidies being paid out to farmers to leave their fields empty, doing nothing and contributing nothing to biodiversity. Imagine that land as gardens, allotments, comfortable, cheap and warm homes, that are built sustainably and with the future in mind – of the inhabitants above all else.
Think of the fun the kids would have. All that den building. Learning new skills. Skills that have been lost. Traditional skills. Imagine that today’s game is building a real fortress in the trees, not a pretend one on Minecraft. That would work. Tell me why it wouldn’t?
We need to make this a thing. How do we make this a thing? Help me make this a thing, hoomans….