Reported in the Times a couple of days ago: a couple have been told to demolish their beloved home because it isn't green enough.
Tony Wrench and his partner Jane Faith built their eco-home for £3,000 with local materials. Its electricity is supplied by solar and wind power and its heat is kept in by a turf roof and straw insulation. They compost their sewage using a reed bed and make do without a fridge or washing machine.
The single-room roundhouse, based on a Celtic layout, is set in a protected part of the Pembrokeshire coast and has been refused planning permission because it "failed to make a positive environmental impact". The couple, who grow their own food and make a modest living from music and woodcraft, feel they are being victimised despite doing more than most to reduce their carbon footprint.
The Hobbit House, as locals in Brithdir Mawr, near Newport, have dubbed it, is destined for demolition unless given a last-minute reprieve by the Welsh Assembly.
"You get the feeling that it does not matter what you do, they will always say 'no'," Mr Wrench said. "We are doing everything we possibly can to reduce our carbon footprint. It is about as low as we can get and it demonstrates that an environmentally sustainable lifestyle is possible. This house is so beautiful to be in, and the garden so fruitful and bursting with life of all kinds, that I still cannot believe that in a world of such environmental spoilation and with spreading patches of such ugliness, there are still people paid to work on having this home demolished. What low impact proposal will ever withstand this level of nit-picking?"
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority ruled that the dwelling would have a negative impact on dormice, bats and invertebrates. An ecologist's report concluded that if permission were granted, the home would cause, "severe degradation of the National Park landscape".
Ifor Jones, the authority's head of conservation, admitted that the rules were strict, but said that they applied to everyone. He said: "Yes, we do have high hurdles, but it is important that any development enhances the environment, rather than detracts from it. In this instance the location of the roundhouse and vegetable garden within an area of semi-natural vegetation, comprising woodland edge and unimproved wet grassland, is considered to have had negative impacts."
To be honest, The GOS isn't sure what to think about this. On the one hand he feels a certain amount of malicious glee that two lots of foxy-lovin' tree-huggers are at each other's throats. The hippy couple thought they could get a lovely house in a beautiful part of the country for only £3,000 by being ever-so-holier-than-thou, and they've come badly unstuck. Whatever made them think it was OK to just move in and build in a National Park?
On the other hand, just what do the National Park authorities think they're protecting? "Semi-natural vegetation comprising woodland edge and unimproved wet grassland"? However much they dress it up in words, this sounds suspiciously like a bit of scrubby bog that nobody wants.
Oh well, best if the rest of us sensible folk just get on with our lives and leave these hissy-fit environment nuts to scratch each others' eyes out. Meanwhile a body calling itself the Optimum Population Trust called for families in the UK to limit themselves to a single child. It claimed that Britain's birthrate, growing at its fastest for nearly 30 years (1.87 children per couple) is an environmental liability. The report's author, Professor John Guillebaud, said "Each new UK birth, through the inevitable resource consumption and pollution that UK affluence generates, is responsible for about 160 times as much climate-related environmental damage as a new birth in Ethiopia."
Professor Guillebaud has three children. As does Sir Crispin Tickell, a patron of the Trust. The majority of the other patrons, and Professor Guillebaud's co-chair Val Stevens, have two children each.
While we're on the topic of people getting their comeuppance, we await with bated breath the outcome of the court case in which the Office of Fair Trading are claiming that the high-street banks are unlawfully overcharging customers. There's been a lot of comment about this, all of it focusing on the banks' enormous profits, and the difficulty customers have had getting their money back.
The customers are now suffering even more because it has been decided by the Financial Services Authority that payment of successful claims against the banks should be suspended while the court case is decided, and that could take a very long time.
Trouble is that nowhere, not even once, have we seen anyone pointing out what this row is really about. It's about unauthorised overdrafts. People run their accounts into the red, the banks charge them a hefty "fine", and the people complain. Now the GOS has an overdraft facility on his current account. He's had it for years. He can run into the red up to a certain amount, the bank will charge him a small amount of interest, and that's all - because years ago he had the foresight to make this arrangement with them. It's very convenient, and the bank seem prepared to let it continue, so everyone's happy.
Yet he really can't find it in him to feel any sympathy with these bank customers who think they have a right to run into the red whenever they like with impunity. Far from being the banks' oppressed victims, it's hard to see that they have a leg to stand on. When, without asking the bank first, you take more money out of your account than you have put in, aren't you taking somebody else's money without permission?
And taking somebody else's money without permission - isn't that theft?
The GOS says: And before anyone starts whining about the banks making mistakes, pushing people unwittingly into the red and then charging them for it, let's just admit that yes, sometimes mistakes do occur and when they do the bank should take responsibility. But in my long experience, mistakes are rare. I've had several bank accounts for more than forty years, and the bank has never made a mistake with any of them.
My daughter used to work in the Head Office of a high-street bank, where she was responsible for dealing with people who were dissatisfied with the way their complaints had been dealt with by local branches. Every day she would come home with horror stories about (a) a few sad cases of people whose partners had left them to deal with horrendous debts they'd never suspected, and (b) a hell of a lot of completely unreasonable customers who appeared to feel that the bank owed them a living and weren't going to shut up until they got it.
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