Self building housing

The workshop heard from David Clement of the Association des Logements Ephemeres et mobiles (HALEM) from l'Ariege in France. The struggles faced by peasants trying to live on their land here are similar to the rest of Europe. Many young people are being priced-out of their communities by wealthy home-owners moving in and inflating the price of property and land. In addition the planning laws of the department are biased towards promoting tourism and prohibiting low-impact and self-build groups. The association ALEM has been formed to adress this problem by communicating between local peasants and settled communities. Many peasants have resorted to mobile housing in an effort to remain living on the land. This in itself brings problems as mobile homes, caravans and buses are seen as "undesireable" by many local residents. Peasants therefore face immediate opposition for simply trying to live in the most low-impact way possible. HALEM offers free advice to peasants in l'Ariege and relies heavily upon the state's responsibility to provide social housing as a loophole which may be exploited to legalise self-build projects. Land is classified under three seperate clauses; residential, leisure and agricultural. Residential land is land in or cotiguous to an existing rural settlement and can only be used for conventional housing with full services; sewage, water and electricity. Due to the value of this land for large-scal developers however it usually commands high market value making it generally too expensive for self-build groups to consider. Leisure land is typically used for commercial campsites and caravan parks where planning permission is granted for 'light' construction; individual houses of no more 35 sq. metres with no requirement for formal services; sewage, water etc. Agricultural land is typically land which is unlikely to be granted Residential or Leisure status and as such is not contiguous to rural settlements.The most common way for peasants to legally build their own hopuses and remain in them legally is through a conversion of land use from Agricultural to Leisure. In this way a peasant may gain permission from the local Mayor to build a low-impact dwelling, however he or she must prove a need to be on the land and gain the sympathy of the local community. Other options open to peasants include permenant living in mobile accomodation and building illegally on Agricultural land. Mobile dwellings are subject to continued harrasment from the police and planning authorities and there is no security of tennancy. Legally mobile dwellings are only permitted on a single site for 3-months at a time before they must be moved. Illegal dwellings built on Agricultural land or Leisure land can obtain the equivelent of a 'Certificate of Lawfulness' if they remain undiscovered for three years. It is the responsibility of the peasant to prove that the fully-completed dwelling has remained undiscovered for a full-three years before a permit of lawfullness will be granted. HALEM's intention is that through continued pressure from both the ground-up and lobbying of local and national government, France's planning laws will evolve to adopt common-sense policies which will allow peasants to live on the land which they farm. In the meantime the peasants of l'Ariege will continue to secure their rural livelihoods in any way they can, whether this means rocking the boat or rocking the establishment.