Yurt dwellers win the right to remain in Nomansland

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The Independent Online

Today, he will wake happy in the knowledge that he and his partner can remain in their Mongolian-style dwelling of seven years after winning a long-running battle with his local council.

Mr Tribe, one of the UK's last woodsmen, built the yurt in five and a half acres of woodland between the hamlets of Nomansland and Black Dog, near Tiverton in Devon. He bought the land after seeing an ad in the local paper and set about establishing a sustainable life there for himself and his partner, Sarah Harvey. They burned charcoal, drew their own water and swapped wood for vegetables with local farmers.

Even their workshop they built beside the yurt was created from the local environment, with wooden nails instead of iron. Mr Tribe, 48, made money by selling handmade furniture, trimming hedges, coppicing and logging.

But in December last year Mid Devon District Council intervened. It placed an enforcement order on the couple's site in Upcott Woods claiming that their clearing did not fit in with planning regulations. The decision was a source of indignation to many neighbours and environmentalists - including the Green Party, which has thrown its weight behind their battle.

They took their fight to a public inquiry last month, which was mired in controversy and had to be halted twice because of complaints about how it was being run. The planning inspector who chaired it has ruled that the couple should be allowed to stay, since their site is not damaging the woodland. The inquiries chairman has ruled that the couple may stay so long as they do not extend their home and ensure it is removed if they leave the site.

"Above all, I am relieved," said Mr Tribe, a fifth generation woodsman who has travelled around the West Country as an itinerant worker employed by National Parks and the Forestry Commission. "I can leave it all behind me and get on with my life. It's like a stuck record in my head and now I have been able to move it on.

"I certainly think in this day and age with all the global warming and rising oil prices it is important people see that there is an alternative. I do not think everyone should do it but I think everyone should take on board that this is a fragile planet"

The local Thelbridge parish council, which voted unanimously that they should stay and were angry when Mid Devon District Council disagreed, was equally delighted. Councillor Bob Charlton, who has spoken on the couple's behalf, described the importance of nurturing woodcraft that is "dying out." He said: "We should learn from them rather than throw them out."

Ms Harvey, who has not lived in a house for 20 years, was back making woodland jewellery and painting pictures on wood yesterday. "There are people who want to live like this and they should be allowed to," she said. "I think as long as they can prove that they can, and do, help the environment and do not have a detrimental impact, there is nothing wrong with it at all."

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