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Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

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So, is the council right? Are there sound reasons to evict the Masons?

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default Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Adrian on 30th June 2011, 10:42 pm

A COUPLE living an "off-grid" lifestyle say they face prison unless they move from their own land in Willand and return to an existence in the benefits trap.

Stig and Dinah Mason bought Muxbeare Orchard after a sudden windfall allowed them to quit their impoverished lives on a Hertfordshire council estate two years ago.


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Dinah and Stig Mason with sons Yosse, 8, and Dahli, 9, and Moo the dog at their lorry home
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The Masons have transformed what they described as a derelict four-acre plot into a haven of self-sufficiency boasting a 400 sq m allotment, a polytunnel and greenhouses to grow fruit and vegetables, chickens for egg production and an orchard they have regenerated by planting around 14 new apple trees of various species.

The couple, who have two boys, aged eight and nine, say because they moved onto the site in order to work the land, Mid Devon District Council is turfing them off as officers do not consider them to be conserving an agricultural area.

They faced magistrates on March 31 when they were served with an injunction to leave within 28 days from June 1.

Dinah, 35, who spent a year with her husband clearing four-foot high nettles and thistles which engulfed the four-acre site, said: "How anybody can say the orchard was being conserved before is beyond my comprehension."

Dinah works while Stig, 34, as well as making sure the children get to school on time, tends to the land on a daily basis where peas, potatoes, garlic, strawberries, raspberries and various produce have been growing since 2009.

Vegetarians Stig and Dinah claim council officers offered them bed and breakfast accommodation in Cullompton at taxpayers' expense and suggested they live on take aways, which are likely to cost around £20 for each family meal.

Dinah's income currently provides the family with everything they need which they cannot grow themselves but is unlikely to stretch to cover kennelling costs for their dog, Moo.

They say they currently receive no state hand-outs but by giving up their "off grid" way of life, they fear they will end up in a council house, claiming housing and council tax benefits, as well as seeking grants to help pay for high utility bills.

Stig, chairman of the Willand Composting Scheme and a member of the primary school's PTFA, sells eggs, produce, and hopefully cider in the future but explained that planning permission to live and work on the land was refused in 2009 which they are appealing against.

He said one of the council's reasons for refusal was based on a belief the couple had did not have a "sound enough business plan."

As well as plans to sell more produce locally, the couple say it is only likely to take them a further two years to get to a stage where they will be able to grow six to eight months' worth of vegetables.

Dinah, who is a community care worker, cub leader and also a member of the PTFA, said: "To live in an agricultural area you need to have a financial need, but this gives us enough to live on, but our whole ethos is not about making money.

"The council is saying by us living here it becomes mixed-use and is therefore no longer deemed agricultural."

Dinah was bequeathed money from the sudden death of her aunt and £47,000 was spent on the land to create the smallholding where wood burners and solar panels provide their energy needs.

Dinah said removing them from their land will render them homeless and is concerned they will have to pull their children out of Willand Primary School if they have to move out of the area.

But several people from across the country have written to the council in support of the family's retention.

Anne Wallington, whose family has had an interest in the village for 44 years, wrote to the council in support of the Masons by praising their hard work in reclaiming what was "rapidly becoming derelict land." David Thompson, who also lives in the village, said "they are trying to live up to the Government's pledge to take better care of the environment and this is the last orchard in the vicinity of Willand."

John Clarke, planning enforcement officer, said: "To get planning permission to move onto agricultural land, you have to prove first there is a need for someone to live there, for example, to tend livestock and look after crops, and second, that the enterprise can provide living income for at least one worker.

"Neither condition was met and therefore took the necessary action to protect the nature of the rural landscape and prevent unlawful habitation."

The council said it cannot comment on individual cases of housing need and said bed and breakfast accommodation is offered if people are homeless.

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Adrian on 6th July 2011, 8:54 pm

An intersting blog post on the Masons

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Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

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Just imagine spending years of dreaming about living 'The Good Life' then one day it becomes a reality. You give up the rat race, suburban living, the big smoke, the hustle, the bustle. Living a life in a place where you become totally self sufficient, working the land, growing your own food, generating your own electricity, surrounded by orchards, hay meadows, and hedgerows...being at one with nature while your children grow up in peaceful, beautiful surroundings.

For a lot of us living a life 'off grid' is nothing more than just a dream but for one couple Stig and Dinah Mason it became a reality. They inherited £47,000 from an Aunt and instead of wasting the money on fast cars, luxury holidays or any other material indulgences they decided to completely change their lives and live the dream by leaving their council house in Hertfordshire and buying some land in Mid Devon.

According to The Mid Devon Gazette The Masons have worked damn hard transforming Muxbeare Orchard into an oasis of calm and self-sufficiency which when they purchased it in 2009 was a run down, overgrown and very neglected four acre plot . They now have a huge allotment, a polytunnel and greenhouses to grow their own food, chickens for eggs and an orchard that they planted up 14 new apple tree's.

Dinah Mason works during the day as a community care worker while husband Stig sends the kids off to school in the mornings and then works their land. I personally grow a very small amount of food but growing enough to be self sufficient in fruit and veg would be a full time job in itself and bloody hard work but very rewarding and satisfying. To me this is the idyllic life and I can't help but admire them and what they are trying to achieve for their family.

The family have become very involved and active within their new local community...the children attending a local school, Dinah a cub leader and member of the PTFA and Stig is a chairman of the Willand Composting Scheme and also a member of the school’s PTFA, he sells eggs, produce, and is hoping to sell cider in the future but planning permission to live and work on the land was refused in 2009 which they are now appealing against.

They now have an eviction notice hanging over their heads as the local council are trying to 'boot' them of the land because it is Mid Devon District Council does not consider them to be conserving an agricultural area. One of the reasons that planning permission was rejected is based on a belief that the couple do not have a “sound enough business plan.”

John Clarke, planning enforcement officer, said: “To get planning permission to move onto agricultural land, you have to prove first there is a need for someone to live there, for example, to tend livestock and look after crops, and second, that the enterprise can provide living income for at least one worker.

“Neither condition was met and therefore took the necessary action to protect the nature of the rural landscape and prevent unlawful habitation.”

I totally 'get' the need to have these laws to protect our rural landscapes but surely some exceptions can be made in circumstances like this? The Masons could be closely monitored and certain conditions could be put in place to prevent the land become ruined.

The council now expect the family to either face prison or give up their home and move into a B&B and receive benefits for rent and the children may even have to be pulled out of their school if they are forced to move out of area.

People from across the country have written to the council in support of the family and the local people fully support the Masons plight. Local resident Anne Wallington, praises the Masons hard work in reclaiming what was “rapidly becoming derelict land.” Another resident David Thompson, said “they are trying to live up to the Government’s pledge to take better care of the environment and this is the last orchard in the vicinity of Willand.”

There is also an online petition [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]. Please take 2 minutes to sign it and support this family.

The Masons website is [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] and Facebook page [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.].

So what do you think? Do you think this is fair, that the Masons should be removed from their land or do you think they should be allowed to remain and continue living their lives in peace?


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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 6th July 2011, 9:17 pm

These things come up all the time. The issue is that they applied for planning permission and were denied it, and then went ahead anyway, in the knowledge that what they were doing was illegal. They do not have permission for a dwelling there. There is nothing to stop them living somewhere nearby and continuing to run their smallholding. And why do they 'face prison'? They face eviction, not prison. But even if they are evicted they are only evicted from living there, not from owning and farming the land.
And why exactly must they live in a B&B on benefits? Why doesn't Stig get a job and they rent somewhere to live nearby? Why didn't they stay in their council house in Hertfordshire and buy a plot of land local to where they were?
We have a smallholding of about the same size and we both work jobs to support ourselves and our children and keep the place going. Why is different for Stig and Dinah?
Yes, if you wnat planning permission to live on land you farm you have to demonstrate that a.) you are earning a livelihood from the land and b.) there is a compelling need for you to be on the land 24/7. And that is there to stop every downsizing London banker who fancies 'The Good Life' from buying a chunk of greenbelt land, building a mansion on it and sticking an eglu in teh back garden. Is there a compelling need for teh Masons to be on their land all the time? No. they have a veg plot and some chooks. Which would survive just as well if they lived ten miles down the road. Why are they an exception?

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Adrian on 6th July 2011, 9:22 pm

Land here in Nova Scotia is zoned, where I live, you can own land and live on it with no interference from the government - from what I can see, the world has not yet ended, nor has the land been destroyed..

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 6th July 2011, 9:31 pm

Badger wrote:Land here in Nova Scotia is zoned, where I live, you can own land and live on it with no interference from the government - from what I can see, the world has not yet ended, nor has the land been destroyed..

There is, however a lot more land in Canada than there is in England. And if that were the case here, all the land would be developed by people with a lot more money than the Masons.

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Adrian on 6th July 2011, 9:49 pm

Wilhelm Von Rhomboid wrote:
Badger wrote:Land here in Nova Scotia is zoned, where I live, you can own land and live on it with no interference from the government - from what I can see, the world has not yet ended, nor has the land been destroyed..

There is, however a lot more land in Canada than there is in England. And if that were the case here, all the land would be developed by people with a lot more money than the Masons.

True enough, we are blessed with a very low population density, NS is around the size of Ireland and has the population of Leeds/Bradford, half of whom live in the city...

Still, the Masons are doing no harm and it is good to see land being used as they (and we) use it rather than being used as storage for a stockbrokers pony..

I am pleased to see that they are using official channels, applying for permission, appealing decisions etc - its frustrating when folk expect to be able to do what they wand without trying to follow the rules.. I do still think that they should be allowed to live on their land while their appeal is processed...


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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 6th July 2011, 9:54 pm

Indeed, but that does not give them the right to live on it. No-one is trying to stop them using it to grow crops or raise chooks.
The law is all about precedent. If the council turn a blind eye to them living on greenbelt land, then what happens when a downsizing City worker from Surrey buys the plot next door and decides to live on it, citing their case as precedent?
And when it comes to it, why do the Masons have any greater right than a stockbroker? Because they look like hippies?

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Adrian on 6th July 2011, 10:27 pm

Well yes, fair point about the legal precedents, and yes, of course I am more sympathetic because they are living the same kind of life that I live and have a look of the hipster about them - though they are by virtue of their chosen life, working hard, contributing to their community, maintain the land and not claiming from the state. That must go someway towards a sympathetic look on their case.

I am naturally sympathetic to people wanting to live a simple life, its the ethos behind this forum. Its a shame that their land was not zoned for residential a well as agricultural use, or that the council could not (on first view) see an ag exception.

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by frankbeswick on 6th July 2011, 11:03 pm

They can keep the land, but live elsewhere. Not good enough! Maybe they should apply for change of use: build an enormous energy guzzling, land-using brick-built property that will cost them the earth, burden them with a mortgage and ruin one or both of them, and contribute to the collapse of the environment. Isn't that what the council [system] wants.Lock them in to dependence! The system cannot tolerate people who are not dependent on it. After all, these little jobsworths are there because they love power. You don't need them to control your lives; but they need to control your lives, justt to boost their swollen egoes. Good luck, Folks.
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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Compostwoman on 6th July 2011, 11:15 pm

But...if THEY get to do stuff without the appropriate planning consents in place BEFORE they do it...so can the likes of Tesco et al... Shocked Evil or Very Mad

The problem is the Planning System we have...it does not differentiate between genuine ( I suspect) cases such as this and people such as Billy mentioned, with a token few chickens in the back garden who want to bung up a mansion in Green Belt land...

Am familiar enough with Planning stuff to have to agree with Billy on this one..let us all campaign to change the rubbish planning laws...so people like this family can do what they are trying to do, BUT not so a other, less well intentioned multi national corporations can also take advantage.....

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Compostwoman on 6th July 2011, 11:38 pm

Just so we are clear about this ...

I really believe that people like the Masons ( and a number of my personal friends!) should be able to do, what they are doing...

it is good and right and wonderful that they are doing it

BUT the rubbish system we have in place does NOT distinguish between genuine people who want to live a low impact life on their land and work it...and the like of Tesco et al....

which is my problem, here..

I would be more than happy to support any application the likes of the Masons make, and indeed have done so on many occasions...but it is the LAW which needs changing, so lovely people like the Masons can do, what they want to do...without letting Trans National Corps like Tesco take advantage of any planning precedent.

I am sorry if that upsets or offends, but I am familiar enough with the Planning System to know that if you give the "other sort" an inch, they WILL take a mile...

IF I can be of ANY help to this family from my experience of various Planning stuff I would be happy to help them.

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default hello there

Post by phillip.wilmot on 7th July 2011, 2:55 am

I totally think your doing the right thing! And think that the laws are outdated!! And favour the rich, you have transformed that land back to beautifull natual orchard, and living your dream! no one should have the power to steal some one elses dream..but good ppl with loads good karma banked up deserve support Wink
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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by polgara on 7th July 2011, 3:53 pm

I do agree with the family & what they have done, I wish more people could do it, but the truth is they broke the law.

The law is bad & should be changed & doesn`t always help those it should. This retrospective planning permission is not right & means other moneyed people can do what they want, when they want, & where they want. It is certainly something that goes on from time to time on the Island & has personally affected me & the OH in the past. . After all in a way, (& I do not mean to be offensive,) are they not doing, (in a more pleasant way,) what the travellers do?

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Chilli-head on 7th July 2011, 5:11 pm

I think I pretty much agree with Billy here. They surely knew that they would need a change of use of the land to live there, and that they were unlikely to get it.

I recall Badger mentioning that their move to Canada was in part down to being priced out of the market by rich bankers and their pet ponies. If freelance "smallholders" are allowed to get away with moving onto agricultural land, so will the bankers with pet ponies.

As has been said, it is only them living there that is the problem; they could live off-site and still be smallholders. Although less convenient and perhaps not the rural idyll, it seems to be the most affordable option. My BIL does exactly that - he rents some spare land from the local pick-you-own market gardener, and keeps bees, pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, and now sheep I hear. They should be on here really Very Happy
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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by frankbeswick on 7th July 2011, 5:17 pm

Someone explain to me why a change of use was needed. The place was an orchard, so it should be agricultural land, and they are using it for agriculture. I know that you cannot just a put a house anywhere without permission. Were they planning a caravan?
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Post by polgara on 7th July 2011, 5:29 pm

I think I heard mention of a low impact wooden scandanavian type house.

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Adrian on 7th July 2011, 5:57 pm

Last night I was reminded that Susan and Mike (on the Archers) managed to get planning permission for their new build on their ag zoned land because he needed to be onsite for his pigs..

Now I know that is just a silly soap, but certainly worth a thought or two

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 7th July 2011, 6:11 pm

But that is just the point: if you need to be onsite, you can get permission. If you do not need to be onsite you cannot get change of use t allow a residence. Quite why everyone sees that as a stupid law I don't understand.

IIRC Ben Laws was allowed to have permission to live in his woodland because he was involved in charcoal burning - which requires him to be onsite around the clock. If you have a veg plot and some chooks, why do you need to live onsite?

I also still do not understand why the options for the Masons are going to prison or living in a B&B on benefits. According to the article they live in a converted lorry onsite. Why do they not continue to live in their lorry somewhere else and continue to raise their veg and chooks on the land? They would be no less self-sufficient.

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Post by Compostwoman on 7th July 2011, 10:44 pm

I only think the planning laws are silly ( your words Billy) becaue they do not differentiate between a low impact dwelling with a family and a high rolling wannabe mansion building greenbelt trashing person..

BUT that is an issue for future campaigning. The law as it stands NOW is what we have to use and deal with

We have the planning system we have NOW...it is flawed, granted; but it is, what it is...and it IS clear that this development would not be allowed under the currant planning rules.

One of my near neighbours has spent many many years living in a mobile home while they demonstrate the need to have a house built so they can care for the 3000 " free range" chickens they have had as a business for longer than they have lived in the mobile home.

They have finally built a house...but it STILL has an agricultural tie on it so if they stop keeping the 3000 chickens the house cannot be lived in.

That is what happens in the countryside. If it did n't we would be overrun with developers building loads of houses on good agricultural land.

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Post by Adrian on 8th July 2011, 5:33 pm

The petition petitioning that the injunction to remove the Masons be itself removed.

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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 8th July 2011, 7:31 pm

Has anyone yet discovered what the grounds for their moving onto the land are?

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Adrian on 8th July 2011, 10:59 pm

Well, Dinah Mason has recently joined the forum, so hopefully she will be along to tell us their story.

But, I imagine why they want to live on their land is pretty much the same reason why any of us do...

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Adrian
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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 9th July 2011, 8:19 am

Probably yes, so are you suggesting that 'wanting to to live on v]greenbelt land' should replace 'needing to live on land' as the criterion for planning applications? In that case I shall move onto mine immediately.

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Wilhelm Von Rhomboid

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by bronze on 9th July 2011, 11:06 am

The law is an ass
but at the moment it is the best we have
They are in the wrong however idealistic they are

Instead of just doing what they wanted they should started the fight to change things fairly.

at the moment though I would prefer them to be turfed off than for them to set the precedence for any tom dick and balfour beatty to build at will.

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default Re: Devon Family Living 'off Grid' and Facing Eviction!

Post by Adrian on 9th July 2011, 12:24 pm

Wilhelm Von Rhomboid wrote:Probably yes, so are you suggesting that 'wanting to to live on v]greenbelt land' should replace 'needing to live on land' as the criterion for planning applications? In that case I shall move onto mine immediately.

No, of course not, I should think that you know me better than that. I do, however think that we as a society should be supporting those who wish to self support and in a time when we are approaching Peak well everything, food oil water etc, then a family who want to live in a van on the land that they have carefully restored, nurtured and are putting to good use, should be allowed to. Everyone seems to go on about the current economic climate and how belt tightening is needed and yet seem quite happy to move people who currently take nothing into the welfare system..

I know full well that planning laws are an ass, I also know full well how corrupt planning officialdom is, If Stig and Dinah had been nice middle class banker folk, the chances are they would have been looked on more favorably than than the alternative types they are.

Not wishing to come across all Daily Heil, but they are self supporting, take nothing from the state and wish to remain so - removing them from their home and property seems to mean that the council want to put them in a council flat and offer them fast food vouchers - whose interests does that serve?

Well from what I have read, they have the support of the local community as well, so maybe a case will be made by local community interests.

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