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One Planet Development: the opportunities and challenges of a living countryside

By Neil Harris and Allan Archer

Society is slowly waking up to the planet’s finite supply of resources, expressed in terms such as ‘limits to growth’, and more recently as ‘One Planet Living’. One Planet Living highlights that unless society comes to live within the capacity of the planet, we continuously deplete the Earth’s resources. The Ecological Footprint has emerged as a way of measuring our impact, and it highlights that Western societies are consuming more than twice their share of the Earth’s resources. Some countries, including Wales, are now using this tool to drive society towards more sustainable futures.

Planning can support this challenge by helping society live within limits. In urban contexts this usually means promoting the use of public transport, reducing energy demand, and promoting other ways of reducing resource use. Yet there are also ways in which planning can support more radical forms of low impact development.

There is a quiet experiment going on in rural Wales. Planning policy typically controls development in rural areas very tightly to protect the countryside. This is long-established and enjoys widespread public support. There are some very specific and well-established exceptions, for example for necessary agricultural development. But what if we made a further exception for people wanting to move towards One Planet Living, to experiment with living within their fair share of the Earth’s resources?

This is the thinking behind the Welsh Government’s planning policy enabling One Planet Developments in the open countryside. One Planet Developments are defined as ‘development that through its low impact either enhances or does not significantly diminish environment quality’. The low impact of a development is demonstrated by a detailed management plan and measured through the Ecological Footprint. The development should initially achieve a figure of 2.4 global hectares per person or less and within a period of five years demonstrate clear potential to move towards 1.88 global hectares – in effect, a measure reflecting a fair share of the Earth’s resources  and the Welsh Government’s ‘One Wales: One Planet’ target.

Pwll Broga

Pwll Broga under construction in 2012 at Trecwnc in Glandwr, Pembrokshire, in south west Wales. Pwll Broga – referred to sometimes as ‘The Hobbit House’ – was initially reported and investigated as an unauthorised dwelling in the countryside. It was later in 2015 approved at a planning appeal as a One Planet Development. 

The policy has resulted in some One Planet Developments securing planning permission where they would previously have been refused. The number of One Planet Developments is small – just over thirty have been approved and others are at various stages in the planning process. The developments are typically permaculture activities and land-based enterprises, providing for many of the needs of residents. Residents’ resource consumption is significantly reduced compared to the average. The Welsh Government’s planning policy has enabled some people to develop a zero-carbon home in a rural location and live a sustainable life on the land.

The One Planet Development policy is bold and innovative, yet at the same time introduces risks and challenges. It is no surprise that One Planet Development is tightly regulated, both at the point of applying for planning permission - with demands to produce a detailed masterplan to demonstrate how the development will meet stringent criteria, such as providing the resources to support needs, and reducing environmental impacts - and on an ongoing basis in monitoring progress of the management plan and measuring households’ and individuals’ Ecological Footprints. The Ecological Footprint calculator is used to try and measure individuals’ resource use and consumption in global hectares. There is the uncertainty about how accurately we can measure sustainability, how accurately people are able to self-report their consumption and production, and whether planning departments have the capacity and capability to investigate and verify Ecological Footprint data.

Several early One Planet Developments are approaching the point where they need to demonstrate attainment of One Planet Living. We need to learn from the ‘first wave’ of One Planet Developments. Critical questions remain about whether planning services are prepared for monitoring and – if a development fails to attain and maintain 1.88gha per person as the Ecological Footprint target – compliance or enforcement. This is especially as clusters of One Planet Developments appear in parts of Wales, raising concerns about the cumulative impact of One Planet Developments in protected landscapes. There are uncertainties for residents of One Planet Development too, as families evolve and personal circumstances change. We need to evaluate these risks and challenges, as well as the opportunities and potential, if we are to learn from One Planet Developments about pathways to a more sustainable future.

Find out more

To find out more about One Planet Development visit the website of The One Planet Council – – and explore the Welsh Government’s Practice Guidance on One Planet Development.

About the authors

Allan Archer is an independent planning consultant following a career in local government planning services. Neil Harris is an academic in the School of Geography and Planning at Cardiff University. @drneilharris @CUGeogPlan #OnePlanetDevelopment

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