A PLANNING inspector has heard how a Towy Valley couple’s charcoal-burning operation in a wood near Llandovery inflamed planning chiefs.

Paul and Kate Hooper built a simple temporary wooden dwelling in their 36-acrewood, Allt Cefn Crug, and claimed that that charcoal burning required them to be on site during the whole process.

Carmarthenshire County Council planners, though, ordered the demolition of the structure, claiming that the Hoopers had no need to be permanently on site and that they should live somewhere else.

Planning Inspector Tim Belcher last week heard the Hoopers’ appeal – at Dinefwr Farm, Llandeilo, – into the planners’ refusal to allow them to live in their wood, where they produce and sell charcoal, biochar as soil conditioner, firewood and woodland honey.

Barrister James Corbet Burcher represented Mr and Mrs Hooper, and additional support for the enterprise came from LATRA - the Llandovery Area Tenants and Residents Association; Transition Town Llandeilo; and Calon Cymru Network.

Calon Cymru is a community interest company working to regenerate the rural economy along the Heart of Wales railway corridor. Giving evidence, Paul Hooper explained why charcoal production using a retort required frequent checking, and why it would be impractical to live off the site.

The inspector was told of Swansea University’s interest in the history of charcoal production in the wood and of the potential for educational courses and public access.

He also heard that the Hoopers’ decision to live without mains electricity, and with natural water supply and drainage, was in accordance with the Welsh Assembly Government’s aims for ‘One PlanetDevelopment’, a style of living using less energy and fewer resources.

However, Kevin Phillips, the county council’s development management officer, said he was “not convinced”

that charcoal production needed to be undertaken all year round and did not think the couple needed to live on the site.

He argued that the Hoopers could work on the site in alternate shifts, keeping in touch by “walkie talkie” with an arrangement for the person not on site to phone the emergency services if the other could not be contacted.

The situation was “similar to a farmer requiring a field shelter at lambing time”, said Mr Phillips.

“I am not convinced that a permanent shelter is required.”

The inspector’s decision is expected within a fewweeks.