Discussion Forum

Shed not on Village Green - background

Posted by Peter Verney,
Friday, May 2, 2003

The Shed - survey

The shed is not on the village green: it's on the allotment. The question of whether the shed is within the boundary of the allotment is now settled -- it's been surveyed at the request of the Steep Fields Association. Mr Crum was invited to participate in the survey process but declined the offer. The maps, method and markers are available to anyone who wants to check.

Moreover, if you look at the 1905/ 1907 map on sale at the Tourist Office, you'll see that there was an outhouse on the same spot almost a century ago, by the way.

Shed History - an adventure in eco-friendliness

When I moved to Lee View in 1995, my allotment area had the foundations of a greenhouse, as well as a disused chicken-shed -- but also vast amounts of broken glass which made it dangerous to garden. V. nasty splinters...

What the site needed, I decided -- after removing six sacks of glass without denting the problem -- was a shed and not another glasshouse -- something less breakable, but around which plants could be grown. And with an earth roof, on which alpines and other suitable plants could grow. (Like the one at Colden School which won plaudits and a front page feature in the Hebden Bridge Times a few weeks ago.)

In Sudan I had (among other things) worked for an organisation called Green Deserts, with village-based initiatives for environmental protection. So ideas about permaculture and 3-D gardening naturally began flitting about my head.

It all fell into place -- I thought -- in Summer 2002, when I visited the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Wales, and fell in love with one of their straw-bale huts. When I came back, inspired, I bought (Todmorden-based) Barbara Jones's book on straw bale building, read it cover-to-cover together with the book from Findhorn and stacks of leaflets I'd got from CAT, and set to work.

It may have been relevant that my love-life seemed to have gone down the spout. The energy (and cash) that I'd intended to put into a project with my long-term (but also long-distance) partner was redirected when the relationship ended. I also decided that I'd be based here indefinitely, and that this justified my extra investment in what, at the end of the day, was just a shed on allotment land. Making it something of a collective effort (half the street's been involved in one way or another, and it'll store three households' garden tools) also helped cheer me up.

The first problem was getting the bales in time. The supplier I'd been recommended to call didn't respond to four messages, and it began to get late in the year: there was a risk that the lime rendering would not dry if the weather turned, and that the whole thing would just rot if started too late.

Telegraph poles had figured as one of Barbara Jones's suggested ways of building a base for the straw-bale shed walls, and we did manage to find a supplier for them -- so long as I bought a minimum load of 10, far more than I needed. Since one of my helpers was interested in having some for his own use, I went ahead. There were fascinating accounts on the internet of how they'd been used in other "recycled material" structures, such as the Earth Centre at Doncaster, and the urge to play with them became irresistible. Odd how massive they are, close to. It took a team of four of us to manhandle each one into position, even when they were cut in half. That's when people started making jokes about "Ground Force"...

I'm the first to admit it turned out larger than I'd had in mind. Here's why. With the straw-bale building, again according to Barbara's book, we had to allow a good 18" overhang on the roof, so that the rain would not damage the bales. The bales themselves were also 18" thick, so before we knew it, the roof needed to be 6 feet wider and longer than the intended inner dimensions of the shed! Still, as it would all be covered in attractive vegetation, the roof (and sides) would blend in better than if it were bald roofing felt, and be a growing part of the garden. And it would be well insulated, for the benefit of those inside and out.

The roof needed to be able to support more than a ton of earth, so we relied on having a sturdy wooden structure built around the old brieze-block greenhouse foundations on which the floor would rest.

The straw-bale plan was reluctantly abandoned as winter approached and the supplier had not called back -- maybe our order was too pifflingly small. Instead, we got floorboards and joists from a school in Bradford -- Lidgetts Green -- which was being demolished. The thought of all those schoolkids' feet having tramped across those boards for decades was attractive. With the telegraph poles we had "communication", and now we had "education" in the vibe of the place. In theory, anyway.

We also had a rather larger-looking structure than originally envisaged, we realised, when the leaves started falling and we looked up at it from the bottom of the hill.

Questions of permission

November 2002
At first, I worked on the assumption that since the building was a garden shed, built on the foundations of its predecessor and made of non-permanent materials, it would not need planning permission. When a resident of Windsor Road asked in November 2002 if I had permission from the Steep Fields Association, I immediately wrote a two-page explanatory letter which was delivered to officers of the association. It attempted to set out answers to questions that might be asked concerning the shed, in case the officers had to field any inquiries about it.

I was then telephoned by one of the officers to whom I had delivered the letter. She told me that since it was on the allotment area, which had had a variety of sheds, greenhouses and boilerhouses built on it in the last few decades, it was not a problem. I proceeded on the assumption that this verbal assent constituted permission from the association, and that nothing further was needed. I had conversations with numerous neighbours about the plan, and tried to make sure the word was spread that way about how it would look and what it was all about.

February 2003
In retrospect, it might have perhaps been wiser to circulate copies of the letter to all the households in the neighbourhood, as I did with a new leaflet some three months later, when it appeared that inquiries were now being made at the Council's Planning Department, again asking whether I had permission. As it was, I assumed in November 2002 that anyone who did not know what was going on would ask the Steep Fields Association officers and be shown the letter.

Only one written complaint, and one objecting telephone caller, resulted from that second attempt to explain what was going on. On the plus side, I had three unsolicited letters of support from neighbours, everyone along the street (underdwellings, that is) signed a pro-shed petition, and I had a lovely call from the lady whose B&B at Myrtle Grove overlooks the site, in response to my leaflet. She even offered plants for the roof: I don't know what to say to her now.

The survey

The shed is not on the village green: it's on the allotment. The question of whether the shed is within the boundary of the allotment is now settled -- it's been surveyed at the request of the Steep Fields Association. Mr Crum was invited to participate in the survey process but declined the offer. The maps, method and markers are available to anyone who wants to check.


I was born in Richmond Park, and grew up in Black Park, surrounded by public woodland.

My father was a forester. Until his death in 1976 he worked for the Bucks County Council as Resident Sub-Agent, responsible for a section of the protective Green Belt area outside west London. He had been a socialist since the 1930s, and after the war became a conservationist and early environmentalist. There is an arboretum in Langley Park which has a commemorative chair and trees planted either by him or in his memory.

So I've had green politics in my life from the outset, and retain respect for my father's aims, achievements and responsibilities.

We also had a garden, and gardens are places to have sheds. My Dad and I built a log cabin, a tree house, and a shelter using the roof of a mocked-up railway carriage from the film set of "The Wrong Box", which neighbouring Pinewood Studios had built in the woods. We always loved improvising. He also took me to Norway, where I fell in love with the grass-roofed barns nestling on the hillsides.

Pity he didn't live to see the thatched "rakuba" shelters I built during my 12 years in Sudan, or my outdoor mud-brick pit-drop lavatory by the Nile, with its palm tree clusters on either side and grasses on top.

What would he have said about this? I doubt it'd be printable

Posted by Kevin Crum,
Saturday, May 3, 2003

Peter Verney and Others. It is good to see that you have taken up the invitation to join the forum and talk about or read about Steepfield issues.

Since wandering into this situation, when I became aware that you had been compelled by planning regulations to seek retrospective planning consent. I have felt that the most important issue in this whole situation is the need for a full and frank airing of the points of view and relevant information. I thought it would be easier then it has proved to be. Lets hope that this fairly accessible venue for dialogue will help stimulate the disscussion.

I am very glad to hear that you feel that you have resolved the issue of whether your Communal garden shelter is encroached upon the Village Green VG1. I would be very happy to see the maps and hear the method employed. Perhaps you could post them here on the Forum? Or tell me how I may arrange to see them. I did not attend this procedure simply because I neither felt qualified or authorised to do so which I communicated to the trustee who spoke to me. Who did carry out the survey and to what extent was it performed. All of VG1 or parts of?

Have you also an opinion on how much of VG1 your allotment garden has encroached upon and do you intend to or have you restored that land to the boundaries of VG1 as contained in the map of VG1 as registered and held at Crossley House.

You mention the Steepfield Association. Before I speak about that I will slightly digress. I had noticed your structure before the progress of retrospective application no. 03/00288/FUL. But I hadn't thought or heard much about it. To be quite honest I thought your building was a platform or temporary structure thrown up for a party or something. I had heard it referred to as the 'Dub Shed'.

When I discovered through the planning procedure what it was about, of course I resolved to approach the Steepfield Association. I also decided to dig out my papers from previous Steepfield activities and to pursue answers to the questions that keep arising. I attended an ad hoc meeting on Sunday 16 March to discuss a number of points. Two of the three Trustees and three others connected with Steepfield (including myself).

One of the things we all agreed upon was that the Steepfield Association had been not particularly active for some time. Possibly because no issues had come to anybody's attention who was concerned enough to look around for 'The Steepfield Association'. I don't know. Than came retrospective application 03/0288/FUL. Since than quite a lot of people have been looking around for the Steepfield Association, you and I for instance although from different points of view for the moment.

I hope you will join me with others to support and encourage the development of an effective enough Steepfield Association to cope with the responsibility of maintaining and protecting the important community resource of VG1 & Steepfield Allotments and provide a process that can deal with complex issues like those raised by your Communal garden shelter and many others beside. Wouldn't an extraordinary general meeting be a good starting point.

You withdrew 03/00288/FUL on 19/03/03. Why? Will you be resubmitting 03/00288/FUL?

Yes I do object to the granting of permission Planning and Steepfield Association both for 03/00288/FUL. Yes I do seek the removal of encroachments on VG1. Yes I do support the development of a more active and open Steepfield Association. Yes I will be placing my opinions and findings here and through other processes also.

It was good to see a meeting of Allotment Holders, held on the Village Green recently.