Please Note: This website is out of date. The Steward Community Woodland sustainable living project ended in 2018 for legal and planning permission reasons. The contents have been left here as a historical archive.

Planning History

Original application

Shortly after making Steward Wood our home, we submitted a planning application for a "low impact, sustainable development associated with agricultural/forestry enterprise incorporating educational and residential elements". If granted, this permission for change of use would simply have allowed us to continue to be resident on the land. Any buildings other than temporary structures would have required a further application.

Sadly, on the 3rd November 2000 our planning application was turned down by the Dartmoor National Park Authority planning committee. At the first meeting, despite the planning officers recommending refusal, there had been significant support from many of the committee members, however they deferred the decision in order to obtain more information and visit the site, which they did on October 6th. At the final meeting there were just two votes in favour of granting permission.

We were disappointed but not suprised by the decision which simply confirmed our belief that the planning system is standing in the way of attempts to implement sustainable development.

The First Appeal

We then we submitted an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and there was a Public Inquiry at beginning of August 2001. The professional legal support during the appeal were not cheap.

The Inspector's decision was issued early in September 2001. We heard we had been refused first from the press but later the post confirmed the sad news.
Here is our response.

The Second Appeal

Since we received that decision an enforcement notice was issued asking us to vacate the land. We appealed against the enforcement notice on the grounds that we should be granted residential planning permission. The National Park were wanting us to leave within 6 months and we argued that, if we were not allowed to continue to reside on the land and continue the project, that we should have 18 months to leave. We carried out this appeal by written representations because its a much cheaper way of doing things and we didn't believe we had much chance of success anyway - we thought it unlikely that this planning inspector would decide any differently from the previous one. All the paperwork was submitted including our arguments on the human rights issues, the inspector made a site visit, and we waited for the decision.

Shortly after the site visit, the inspector made it clear that he thought some of our structures were operational development (permanent building works) rather than temporary structures which everyone had agreed they were up till then. The decision then took a long time to come through.

On the morning of 14 August 2002, we received an e-mail congratulating us on our success. After a little confusion and some phone calls we began to realise that we had been granted temporary planning permission! It really became reality after a visit to the post office to collect a registered letter containing the full decision. As you may imagine we were surprised and overjoyed. The day was spent organising a press release and discussing other immediate issues. We put off the full celebrations until our campfire music evening on the 20th which we were holding as part of the Moretonhampstead carnival.

The Third Appeal (not ours this time)

At their next meeting the DNPA resolved to seek leave to appeal to the High Court against our new permission. The hearing was set for the 20th January 2003, in the Royal Courts of Justice in London, but unfortunately the judge was ill, and the case was postponed until the following week. The DNPA's barrister put forth their case in the morning, facing much cross examination from the judge, which is apparently how these things work. At the end of the 2 hour session the judge said he did not need to hear the defence (presented by the Government's Treasury Solicitors, defending the Inspector's decision), and would give judgement after lunch. We slowly realised that this meant we had won, and that our planning permission was safe.

Sure enough, at the end of a very long judgement Justice Sullivan dismissed the DNPA's case, saying that the Inspector had fully thought through his decision and that he felt that in pursuing the word of the planning guidelines the DNPA were losing sight of the policies behind the policies, as he put it, they did not see the wood for the trees... He felt that the Inspector was justified in giving weight to the ideas of sustainability that the Government must support through Agenda 21, that the project was exceptional, and provided 'a net gain' to the surrounding environment and community, and therefore should be allowed to slip through the rigid planning policies in the National Park. Which we thought rather splendid. (press release).

Last updated: 2009-04-01

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