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Appeal: Safety of house hand-built from tyres not demonstrated

Tyres / iStock: 1004841824

An inspector has refused retrospective permission for a ‘charming’ off-grid Fenland home built from worn-out tyres by hand despite noting that the decision would interfere with the appellant’s human rights, citing concerns over the building’s safety.

LOCATIONFriday Bridge
AUTHORITYFenland District Council
INSPECTORDavid Nicholson

The appeal concerned four-and-a-half acres of land near Friday Bridge, a small village near Wisbech surrounded by flat, open fenland. The appellant moved onto the land in 2016, and had been using most of it as an ornamental tree nursery. 

On part of the site, however, he had built a home described as a “clay-rendered eco tyre house”, along with a site office, storage shed and workshop, all clad in timber. The buildings were “all but complete” when inspector David Nicholson visited the site. He considered whether to grant retrospective permission after a one-day public hearing.

Nicholson noted that the scheme was contrary to the council’s spatial plan, which restricts development beyond settlement boundaries. He agreed with a previous inspector that the site was not “isolated” for the purposes of NPPF paragraph 70. But paragraph 131, which affords great weight to outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability or help to raise the standard of the design in the area, was considered relevant. 

The appellant explained that the house had been made from worn-out tyres filled with compacted earth on concrete-free foundations, a clay render with a limewash finish, and a roof of rejected and recycled timber. It was built by hand with no powered machinery. Nicholson acknowledged the appellant’s aim for himself and his family to live a “sustainable off-grid lifestyle” with ultra-low emissions. 

The house and its “undulating walls” had “a certain charm” and was “undoubtedly unusual”, he commented, noting that although the appellant had not recorded the construction process, it could still meet the policy requirement of promoting sustainability through an information board, limited visits, and a website. 

For it to be considered innovative, however, the home needed to be habitable and safe, said the inspector. The council’s building control service advice was that the building “had the potential to achieve compliance with building regulations”, but would need to be assessed by a structural engineer. 

The appellant responded that he had not wanted to be forced to use unsustainable materials such as concrete to meet the regulations. However, Nicholson noted, building regulations “generally just set out the required standards for the building work, for example, that a home must be structurally sound... not how this should be achieved”.

Without evidence that the building’s “walls and foundations are stable, that the roof can’t blow away or catch fire, and many other matters”, the inspector could not be sure that the building met the required standards. 

The appellant contended that a home on the site was necessary to secure it, and other security arrangements would use too much electricity. He also explained that he had improved the site’s biodiversity, and that his family’s health problems had improved since moving there.

Nicholson acknowledged that dismissing the appeal could leave the appellant and his family homeless. However, he concluded, the “legitimate aim of protecting the countryside” could only be achieved by dismissing the appeal, and “interference with the human rights of the appellant’s family” was both “necessary and proportionate”. Retrospective permission was therefore denied.

The inspector’s report – case reference 3244101 – can be read here.

Image credit | iStock