Permanent Planning Permission Granted!
After 30 years of off-grid communal living, Tinkers Bubble has been granted permanent planning permission for residency, land-work, and the self-built structures that support our way of life. This post is an edited version of an article written for the Land Magazine, due to be published in summer 2023, and gives a brief explanation of the recent decision and our planning status.
Tinkers Bubble has been operating under temporary planning permission since the late ‘90s. The initial application was rejected at appeal, and only accepted on re-submission with a 5 year temporary permission. This allowed up to 16 adults, plus children, to live on site, make a livelihood from the land, and erect low-impact buildings within specific constraints. This initial permission formed the basis for two 10-year extensions, the latest of which was due to expire in 2026.
In 2022 we started discussion with South Somerset District Council’s (SSDC) planning office in the hope of gaining permanent permission. The resulting approval continues with many of the same clauses and policies as the previous temporary permissions, and didn’t expand the scope or make any major changes to our existing setup. The Planning Officers were supportive during the application, and felt that we have demonstrated our commitment to this lifestyle and have shown that we are having a positive impact on the environment. The Planning Officer’s report (which forms the basis of the approval) states that:
"…it was clear when visiting the site that [Tinkers Bubble] continues to operate based on the same ethos as that on which it was originally founded, incorporating low impact agriculture and forestry activities with an emphasis on self-sufficiency. On this basis it is accepted that the special circumstances for which this use was originally granted continues and the principle of permitting a permanent permission is acceptable.
It is considered the temporary permission has given sufficient time to assess that the low impact development has achieved its aims of having an acceptable impact on the county wildlife site.
Taking into account the number of years that tinkers Bubble has operated without harm to either the character of the area or to the local community that permanent permission should be granted for the continuation of this low impact community is considered to be appropriate.
The proposed development, by reason of its special low impact nature, siting, scale, layout and design, is considered to be an appropriate form of development that should have little impact upon the historic or natural environment or the rural amenities of the area and should not result in any demonstrable harm to residential amenity or visual amenity and to therefore represent a sustainable form of development that accords with the aims and objectives of policies SD1, TA5, TA6, EQ2, EQ3, EQ4 and EQ7 of the South Somerset Local Plan and the provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework."
The permission is in some ways very accommodating – there are various limits on what, where, and how we can build, but within those limits we are free to erect and dismantle structures as we choose. The limits are defined principally by the policy documents that Tinkers Bubble have developed – these were created alongside earlier planning applications and define the building materials and approaches we use, including limiting the number of dwellings and community buildings. A key part of our development policy is that our buildings are considered to be temporary - Landmatters followed a similar approach to obtain their recent permanent planning application. The ‘permanency’ of the planning permission refers to our residency and livelihood here, which are defined by a Resident’s Agreement, Development Policy, and Land Management Plan.
One key change since the initial application is the improvement in relationship with the local community – the recent application was submitted with over 30 comments of support, including from members of SSDC and the local Parish Council. Another supportive change in the last 25 years has been the change in political attitudes. There is now local and national policy which supports low-impact and ecologically positive development, and councils are more likely to see projects such as ours contributing towards their commitments to providing housing whilst also reducing carbon emissions. The tone of our recent application went beyond just trying to justify why we should be allowed to exist – it is up to us to demonstrate that projects like this are an important part of our future. Our application letter makes a case for our financial, ecological, and social viability, and states that:
“As well as having demonstrated its long-term viability, Tinkers Bubble also has an important ongoing role in meeting the changing needs of our time. With many Councils declaring a Climate Emergency, shortages of affordable housing, and intensifying economic pressures on conventional farming, Tinkers Bubble explores an alternative approach to living, working and resource production, which is more socially and ecologically viable than many other options available. As local and national policy gain more focus on sustainability in housing, livelihoods, and land-management practices, Tinkers Bubble offers a successful example of how these targets can be met.”
Creating formal planning policy for off-grid living is important as it can provide a framework for mutual understanding between planners and applicants, but it is interesting to reflect that in our recent application we have actually benefited from their being no specific policy in England for this kind of project, in the way that the One Planet Development (OPD) policy in Wales provides for. This enabled us to write our own rules and provide our own justification – it is probable that if we were in Wales we would have been obliged to go down the OPD route, which would have imposed various additional constraints on us.
A few key points that are worth highlighting from our recent experience:
- Temporary permission gave us time to demonstrate our commitment and positive impact, which meant that by the time we applied for permanent permission we were already considered to be operating as such.
- Building positive relationships with the local community, including the Parish Council and local SSDC employees, provided a lot of support at the time of application.
- The ownership by a Community Benefit Society, with an asset lock on the land, safeguards the project against potential profiteering or a change in culture that could come about with permanent permission.
- Planning officers are a lot more human when engaged with in-person, rather than through the edifice of the government’s Planning Portal! Especially for a project like this, where we don’t fit into any of the conventional boxes, personal contact makes some things a lot easier, from both sides.
- Our structures are still considered temporary: the permanency of the permission refers to the policies that we have in place and to our right to reside and work here.
And so, with thanks to all those who have been involved in the Bubble over the years, and to those engaged in policy and culture change that makes projects like this possible, we celebrate the journey that we have been on, and hope that others can take inspiration as we make tangible the possibilities that we aspire to.
For full information on the planning application, refer to the South Somerset Planning Portal:
Recent permanent permission - 22/03247/FUL
Initial 1994 application (refused) - 94/01757/FUL and 94/01758/FUL
Temporary permissions 98/01651/COU, 04/01235/COU and 15/05391/FUL
Of particular relevance are the supporting documents for the latest application. These can be found under the ‘documents’ tab of the relevant permission: towards the bottom are the documents submitted by Tinkers Bubble, all titles "Supporting Information". The Cover Letter contains our justification and explains our setup and policies in more detail, and the Planning Officers Report includes SSDC’s response and the clauses of the permission.
More photos of our buildings can be found here.