Steve James (pictured) is a tireless campaigner
for the right to live off-grid. Because he wanted others to learn from
his experience of building an off-grid cottage, his own home is now
under threat from the planners. Here he tells his own story: You can
learn more about Steve at his web site.
Well over 90 per cent of the numerous emails I receive about the Gatehouse are pleas for more information regarding the planning permission aspect of this project. Many along the lines of “I’d love to do something like this but planning and the cost of a housing plot make it impossible”.
They do indeed. This, along with the fact that to begin with I had no idea what the house would even look like, is why I never bothered with planning permission. If I had it would never have been built, and you wouldn’t be reading this.
If we needed planning and building regs to move out of the caves most of us would still be living in them. “You can’t use those dangerous wobbly brick things, they can’t possibly be as safe as solid rock, besides all those sharp corners aren’t traditional! ” I purposely kept the cost of this place to a minimum to try and highlight the deeper issues that prevent so many from achieving what I believe to be a basic human right.
A home of one’s own.
Until 150 years ago most people built their own homes. Now we are raised and educated to be completely dependent on the ’services’ of the rigged market in housing. The obstacles to sane, affordable and sustainable housing are entirely political. If you read history, feudalism never ended, it was transformed, commuted to mortgage, disempowerment and the great urban reservations, instead of self-reliance, responsibility and fulfillment.
In the early eighties the Society of Friends (Quakers) raised a
‘concern’ regarding the increasing scarcity of housing land, with its
impact on house prices and living standards for the whole community.
Accordingly a working group was formed to investigate and report back.
They produced a document which opened my eyes to the true extent of the modern feudal state.
Quite simply they showed how every person in Britain could be housed in detached low density housing complete with gardens and access roads and still not fill up more than half of Northern Ireland… (see map?) This is still true. Something else other than physical scarcity or overcrowding is at work. By any definition it is a deliberately maintained scarcity, a black market in which corruption thrives and vast profits are made by zoning ’scarce’ land for housing, and equally vast profits made through compound interest accumulating over thirty year plus mortgages, for which it is now proposed to make children inherit their parents debts.
The actual material and labour costs of even a standard built home are as little as 10% of the price you pay. With the average UK price of housing land now over 3.5 million per hectare , the bare land price component averages from 50 to 80% depending on location. The average cost of a new home in Britain is now £192,000. Compound mortgage interest alone over 30 years will typically amount to £315,000. So the house costs around £50,000 to build (including labour, materials alone are probably half that), but over £500,000 to buy.
Imagine a country where any family can apply for a hectare of public land, costing around two to three hundred pounds, the only stipulation being that a house must be built on it within five years. Is it not ironic that the only nation that allows its citizens such a right is modern day Russia. Known as Kinship domains these eco villages are spreading like wildfire.
One year out of your life, a few thousand, say ten for a three bed family home that’ll last several hundred years with regular maintainance. Your most basic right and requirement sorted to your and the planets eternal benefit. Time and money to get on with the rest of your life, contributing to a better world and helping others gain their freedom rather than helplessly destroying our habitat and each other under orders from the company, the government and the bank.
The consequences of this poison every aspect of society. Planning is
supposed to regulate development for the benefit of the community. Do
you know anyone who believes this? It has become a creature of
corrupted law which now serves only profit and dominion. The concept of
social justice, the common weal is all but forgotten. How can it be
civilised to deny the opportunity to furnish ones most fundamental
needs for oneself, responsibly? How can blocking this fundamental drive
possibly contribute to the greater well being of society as a whole? We
might try and live as though we are seperate, but this is neither the
reality of life on earth nor as far as I can see the road to a future
What I have done will not and should never suit everyone. But it should be available to all those that seek it, and if this was a true democracy I would not now be faced with the threat of demolition or the prospect of gambling hundreds, possibly thousands of pounds just to be permitted to plead to be allowed to live in my own home.
Many new technologies are making living off-grid ever more practicable, opening up vast areas unsuitable for Barret boxes with their piss-taking ten year guarantees. Without planning permission, such land is often available for under £500 an acre. The only remaining obstacle is your unelected, uncooperative, unconcerned planning department. What you gonna do?
 Banks, Ronald: Costing the Earth, London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1989, p.39, 46. £23 bn capital consumption was omitted from the 1988 house buildings value calculation (CSO Blue Book 1991, p.100), raising the land residual to 53% of total British housing stock value, as against 35% in 1985. Banks (p.39) calculates the capital value of all land in GB in 1985 to have been about £500 bn, or 43% of the £1160 bn relevant asset value in the national balance sheet (1991 Blue Book, p.90). The Central Statistical Office has not produced national balance sheet figures for 1988, but the percentage of land to total real estate value would have been above the 53% estimated for dwellings.