Well-heeled eco homebuyers find it ain't easy being green

Living the ecological dream can be a nightmare when it comes to nimby neighbours

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Gary Neville put in a lot of effort and was ready to shell out £6m on a subterranean "eco bunker", designed – despite its resemblance to the Teletubbies house – to exist in peaceful harmony with its surroundings. Unfortunately, at least 100 of his neighbours had other ideas and lodged objections. Last Thursday, Bolton Council's planning committee killed off the scheme.

The decision has thwarted the Man United player's dream of joining a growing elite of well-heeled greens living in "earth-sheltered" buildings or underground houses, disparaged as Teletubbies houses or hobbit holes.

There was little to have so upset neighbours. Planned to fit into a hillside, the house's impact on the surrounding landscape was to be minimal; the only visible sign of the underground home being six petal-shaped zones, prosaically labelled "relax"; "eat"; "work"; "entertain"; "play" and "sleep".

The greenest elements of the scheme – solar panels and a 128ft wind turbine – were the things that the prospective neighbours objected to most, despite the grass meadow roof, and the fact the petals would have been made from local stone.

Other hobbit homes have fared better. The former Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews has a holiday home built into the Pembrokeshire hillside. The grass-roofed and glass-fronted capsule is locally known as the "Teletubby house".

Simon Dale's organic wooden framed woodland home, insulated with straw bales and then covered with turf, is made entirely from recycled materials. It is built – an estate agent would no doubt claim – to bring the occupants as close to nature as possible.

Roger Dean has designed a sustainable "hobbit" village of houses to be built from fibrous plaster shells, made from moulds, and then sprayed with concrete and supplied by sustainable resources. But it has yet to be built.

As Neville has found to his cost, the whole eco house thing is a minefield. Tony Wrench built the Roundhouse – wooden frame, straw insulated turf roof, recycled window walls and a wind turbine for electricity – in 1997. But there have been numerous battles with Pembrokeshire Coast National Park over planning permission: the building was nearly demolished in 2004.

David Cameron too fell foul of neighbours over his plan to put a turbine on his roof. He had to take it down. And the actor Orlando Bloom described his attempts to develop an eco home in London as a "hassle".

The creator of the TV series Judge John Deed, G F Newman, had to take his fight for a 15ft wind turbine at his home, Cherry Hill Farm, to court. Neighbours complained the view would be ruined. He won.

Jonathan Dimbleby's 50ft wind turbine, at his home in north Devon, was also opposed by neighbours. He won but admits that it has failed to deliver as hoped.

Despite this, people remain prepared to go to admirable lengths – and depths – to get the eco home of their dreams. Alex Michaelis (the architect responsible for David Cameron's green makeover) designed a sleek, subterranean townhouse, perfect for the city moles among us. He paid £750,000 for a plot in Notting Hill, knowing the planning restrictions meant the house could be no higher than its 6ft boundary wall. Michaelis tunnelled 22ft into the ground to create a five-bedroom, eco-friendly home.

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