Climate change: '10,000 families could live off-grid'

Dr Thompson, her husband Chris and their baby
Image caption Dr Erica Thompson lives off-grid with her husband and two children

There is the potential for as many as 10,000 families to relocate and live off-grid in rural Wales, a climate scientist who has made the move claims.

Erica Thompson says a planning policy which lets people work a smallholding as their sustainable home is a "no-brainer" in fighting climate change.

So-called One Planet Developments (OPD) must meet strict criteria on carbon emissions and land-based income.

The Welsh Government said it had no plans to ease planning restrictions.

There are currently 41 registered OPD dwellings in Wales, which has one of the most progressive policies in the UK regarding living off-grid due to the decades-old One Planet Development scheme.

It allows agricultural land to be developed and inhabited when planning permission would otherwise not be granted, if the developers can show they can make a basic income off the land and provide all their own energy and water.

Image caption The family built their own home using straw bales around a hand-made wooden framework

Speaking to the BBC Radio Wales' Eye on Wales programme, Dr Thompson explained how she and husband Chris and their two children share a 21.5-acre site near Whitland, Carmarthenshire, which they bought with three other families for £160,000.

The land is divided into four freehold plots and the households share the use of an existing agricultural barn.

The couple built their two-storey home themselves using straw bales around a hand-made framework of wood from a local woodland. The inside walls are lined with clay and the outer walls are lime rendered.

Solar panels on the roof provide enough energy to run a range of appliances, including LED lighting throughout and wireless internet for Dr Thompson to work as a climate scientist.

Image caption Climate Scientist Erica Thompson can work from home thanks to solar panels

Their five-acre plot includes two acres of apple trees from which they press and sell apple juice. The couple keep bees and sell honey, and also keep chickens, ducks and geese.

One of their neighbours keeps sheep while another makes musical instruments from wood.

The planning application for their site, Rhiw Las, was turned down by Carmarthenshire council but was won on appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

Ten OPDs have been approved in the past year, but some have faced criticism from councillors.

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Media captionThe family-of-four living off-grid in Wales

Dr Thompson is chairwoman of the One Planet Council, which aims to help people submit OPD applications which meet the strict assessment and monitoring criteria.

She said the bureaucracy of OPDs was "very off-putting for a lot of people", but has the potential to be expanded significantly.

Image caption The Welsh Government says it has no plans to relax planning restrictions to prevent "abuse"

"In terms of land area, there's no reason why there could not be perhaps 10,000," Dr Thompson said.

"But are there 10,000 families who want to do this sort of thing? I don't know. That has yet to be seen. Finding a way for people who want to live this kind of lifestyle... it's a no-brainer really."

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said it would not be easing restrictions to "avoid abuse of the planning system".

Eye on Wales is on BBC Radio Wales on Wednesday at 18:30 BST.

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