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Friday, October 23, 1998 Published at 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK


Secret village to be pulled down

Buildings were hidden with grass roofs

Councillors have ordered that the residents of a secret commune in a national park are to be evicted and their homes bulldozed.

The village, called Brithdir Mawr, was set up by architectural historian Julian Orbach, 45, and his wife Emma five years ago in the foothills of Mount Carningli, near Newport, Pembrokeshire.

It was only recently discovered, and councillors have decided that six wooden buildings - constructed without planning permission - have to come down.

[ image: The shape of things to come?]
The shape of things to come?
Councillors for the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park authority, where the eco-friendly homes are nestled in woodland, say they will implement the strict no-building laws designed to protect it from development.

Villagers say they will fight to be allowed to stay in their homes, and they defend their lifestyle as environmentally-friendly and unobtrusive.

Emma Orbach: "Our wood comes from the forest"
Emma and Julian Orbach say their way of life harms no-one and that it represents the way people may live in the future.

Councillor David Edwards, however, said: "If we make planning policies on the basis of special cases, I think we will end up with a mish-mash of decisions which ultimately won't hang together."

The villagers' homes are not without creature comforts - they have heating, and even electricity and a shared computer.

Valerie Jones: An experiment in environmental living "which could be the future for the countryside"
But it was the solar panels used to generate power that revealed the existance of the 20-strong hamlet to the world at large.

While villagers had been careful to cover the rooves of their buildings with grass to avoid detection from overhead, a passing plane spotted their solar panel glinting in the sun.

A national parks authority spokesman said: "We just didn't realise the community was there until it was spotted by the plane doing an annual survey.

[ image: Emma Orbach: Compost toilets]
Emma Orbach: Compost toilets
"The pilot saw something glinting in the sunlight below and saw it was coming from a solar panel on a building roof.

"We decided to investigate and were surprised to find a substantial village tucked away."

Julian Orbach: "No-one could see us"
The Orbachs originally renovated a rundown farmhouse and moved in with their children Martha,16, Ruben, 14, and Agnes, 11.

The homes include a dome built on stilts where members of the eco-community meet and work.

Village life

Nearby is a roundhouse with a turf roof, a wooden marquee, wood store and workshop.

The 12 adults and 10 children in the community are mainly vegetarian and live off the land, growing their own crops.

Other income comes from members running a range of courses in subjects such as straw bale building, dry stone walling, singing, music and voice training.

[ image: The solar panels that gave the game away]
The solar panels that gave the game away
Other villagers include a Dutch woman, an engineer and a designer who moved there to be in the countryside.

Mrs Orbach said: "We are very disappointed that the National Park Authority has not supported our project.

"We are unhappy they have decided to take such action without even bothering to view the site first.

"We will be appealing against the enforcement order and putting in retrospective planning applications even though we have been told these will not be accepted."

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