Tepee community's alternative lifestyle under siege: Tent dwellers stand firm against all attempts to evict them from a Welsh valley.

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The Independent Online
A FADED newspaper cutting in Brig Oubridge's scrapbook is headlined 'Tepee village loses court survival battle' and dated January 1989. Four years on, the American Indian-style tepees of one of Britain's first alternative communities are still near the village of Cwmdu in west Wales and the occupants are preparing for another legal battle.

The inhabitants of the valley, near Talley, have been fighting legal actions to clear them from the site since 1984. In recent weeks, a further round of enforcement notices has been issued by Dinefwr borough council. The case will go to the Welsh Office for a decision.

The community owns about 100 acres in the foothills of the Cambrian mountains sold to them by a farmer in the mid-1970s. The land is poor for farming but has provided a haven for the tepees, vans and thatched round huts that are homes to a permanent population of 120. In winter, the group lives at the bottom of the valley, but in summer its members move up the sides of the valley to tend their gardens.

Though the tepee dwellers are difficult to find, locals know where they are. When outsiders ask directions in Cwmdu, people make certain they are not guiding would-be permanent residents to them. 'You're not joining them are you? They're not very popular here, as you can imagine,' one woman said.

Brig Oubridge, who describes himself as a professional hippie, said the valley dwellers were hoping to outwit the authorities again. 'Dinefwr planners have been made to look a laughing stock. If the situation is allowed to continue on this confrontational course of issuing enforcement notices then it could go on for years and years.' The tepee dwellers, veterans of legal fights that have included a trip to the High Court in London in the mid-1980s, will appeal against the recent enforcement notices, which means the matter will be referred to the Welsh Office. Mr Oubridge has challenged Dinefwr planners to settle the issue with a cricket match.

He lost a recent case in which he argued that his tepee should be allowed to remain under the 1991 Planning and Compensation Act because the breach of planning control had continued for more than 10 years. 'Any ideas they have of clearing the tepee dwellers from the valley are pure fantasy,' he said.

Eifion Bowen, Dinefwr's deputy director of planning, acknowledges the council faces a difficult task in moving the valley community. 'They are not that co-operative in providing information as to their own identity and that of the landowners. I can't honestly see the authority ever being in a position to get rid of them.'

He said there was a view that, because they had been there for such a long time and had been assimilated into the community, they should be allowed to stay. But the council still received complaints about their activities, which had prompted the recent action.

Yet while the planning issues may prove interminable, officials at the council have shown relations with the tepee community are still good: they are getting their flannels out to take up the cricket challenge. 'The match will be a separate item to the planning decision,' Mr Bowen said.

(Photographs omitted)