My 15 minutes in 2008 - Big Issue bigs up whilst Daily Mail gloats!
The Gatehouse ~ In Memoriam

My whole intent with this house has always been to:

a) stop talking and start doing

b) demonstrate low impact living is not shanty town poverty

c) provoke questions about the role of planning control and land ownership in a modern society

When the opportunity to go public with the house came my way (unsought) I was naturally full of misgivings. However, at the end of the day, I felt the pressing need to encourage others outweighed any temporary comfort I might enjoy in obscurity. I was cautious, kept the location secret and was lulled into a false sense of security by the total non-reaction to the first piece which appeared late November 2007 in the Herald on Sunday magazine as part of a 'self-build' feature.

When the same journalist approached me again to do a piece in the Independent early in February 2008, I thought what the hell, it didn't do any harm last time, so go for it. A little more reaction this time, including the local BBC radio wanting to do a 'countryside curiosities' piece on it. I backed away from that but agreed to let an article go on the BBC website only, still concealing the exact location.

If I had realised the BBC website is a prime goldmine for global media, I might have reconsidered. All hell broke loose - the phone never stopped, I was asked to appear on Fred Macaulay, Richard and Judy, Russian and American TV and by god knows how many newspapers and reality tv show makers. Trying to limit the damage I turned them all down except for the Big Issue, which I have always admired.

Perhaps in retrospect I should have gone for broke, ridden the nightmare till it threw me off, certainly my restraint didn't count for much in anyone else's eyes. The Daily Mail and the Daily Express each sent out a team of reporters, armed with photos from the website, and toured the entire South West of Scotland asking folk to identify the hills in the background. Within a day they found the location, accosted the landlord and gleefully shopped the location to the local authority. I was away at the time, and unaware of the situation until a friend phoned to say it was in all the papers.

So, two years on and still no debate about the extortion racket in housing land, the feudal power of planning officers, unelected, unaccountable, who nevertheless block the right to live sustainably in favour of the right to become a lifetime debt slave to big banks, crammed into tiny authorised enclosures, making a mockery of all the talk about the need to address climate change, fuel poverty, regenerate rural economies etc etc.

I am still here, the house still stands, at least till 2011 when the landord will destroy it to prove what a good man he is. I could be bitter, but why carry his bile in my guts? I am mostly just sad. There are so many good things destroyed every day, and many more people suffering much worse fates than mine, even as you read this right now.

At least I didn't just dream my life away.
Nor lie down and let Babylon roll over me.
In the end I gained much more than I lost. And I think that's worth quite a lot.

Steve James ~ October 2010


For a long time I struggled to find a balance on this website between encouraging folk to discover how easy and cheap it is to build a warm, comfortable home without sacrificing your life to servitude, or never having one at all, and the discouraging reality of my personal situation with the Gatehouse. The law of the land is quite emphatic: all fixed property belongs to the landowner, regardless of who paid for, or laboured to build it. It was always my prime intention to emphasise that the main obstacle to affordability is actually planning law itself. In point of fact the planners I met with then, and since were generally sympathetic, and willing to find some way of allowing the building to stand, so long as it wasn't classed as a residence. Only the owner wanted it destroyed. Although some planners can be bastards, most are trying to be fair and have little love for the volume housebuilders. It was even valued and I paid commercial rates on it for the remainder of my time there. Having stood for more than four years I could have applied for a Certificate of Lawful Development, which would have safeguarded the building from any further enforcement, and probably after another few years gone for Change of Use to residential. But it was never my intention to wriggle through the loopholes.

If I had I would have started with a piece of land I owned, so the rug could not be pulled out from under my feet as it was here. In the end it was the bitter intransigence of the landowner (originally a friend dreaming of community, who like many, confused owning the land with the lives of those upon it) which forced me to leave the house. All my offers of rent, purchase, lease etc refused, in the end I walked away voluntarily, leaving the house in full working order, hoping he would at least let someone else rent or use it, even if he couldn't stomach me. But he refused all offers point blank, and eventually persuaded some folk to tear it down and plant a forest over the site, utterly convinced he was doing the honorable, right thing. "It had to go", spoken as if this was blatantly obvious, was his only explanation to mutual friends. The blindness of the truly righteous is a wonder to behold.

Other than the joyful return of fascism to these shores, yet further obscuring the truth, these problems and issues remain unaddressed. Meanwhile the tories have blatantly relaxed profitable development strictly for businesses only, whilst destroying what remained of any planning appeals procedure under the Localism Bill. It is still undemocratic planning law which creates the obscene, artificial scarcity which allows the same tiny patch of dirt to increase in value on average by 33,000% the moment permission is granted - leading to widespread speculation and the eternal 'housing crisis' as it is euphemestically styled. If everybody in the UK could build one house like mine, it would struggle to use up another 0.4% of the existing total 6% of Britain already covered with human structures. In every interview I gave I made these points, offered sources for figures, politely asked that some mention of these facts were made. In every single case bar one (Big Issue) they were surgically removed from the published material. I still receive emails asking how to beat or avoid, or outwit the planning process. Rather than get increasingly annoyed by such requests, I will in future refer them here.

In the meantime I enjoy a late career as consultant and eco-builder launched by the publicity surrounding the Gatehouse. With an increasing interest in sacred geometry and proportion I am now building a combined school and temple for Natural Midwifery & Mother of All in Andalucia. As with every build a stream of young folk come to learn and be inspired by the possibilities. In an increasingly dysfunctional society - they see clearer than my generation the need to create their own solutions, and with modern networking technology those solutions ARE being created wherever a gap in the system exists. The future belongs to them.



Archived Newsletters from the beginning of the project in 2005.

The £600 application that after SEVEN years STILL hasn't been decided!!!

Interactive Structural Model - see how it all fits together - lift off the roof and peer inside!

Detailed photos with comments

Herald on Sunday Lifestyle Supplement

Independent Feature - How I built my house for £4000

BBC Website Feature - the one that lit the touchpaper

First article before they tracked it down

Answer to the Housing Crisis?

The Gatehouse on Russian TV News

Larger list of Media Responses

Naturalhomes - always a strong supporter

Old Fancy Flash Slideshow

Original Flash Slideshow (photos up till 2006)

Original Gatehouse html gallery (photos up till 2007)

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