‘I’ve lived here for 30 years’: Shipping container Welsh resident faces eviction | Wales

From the outside it might not look like much – a tangle of metal boxes in a secluded Welsh yard weathered by salty winds next to a field of goats and sheep.

Inside, it is extraordinary. The structure turns out to be four shipping containers ingeniously linked to create a cozy, if quirky, home for 65-year-old Stephen Gibbons, complete with a wood-burning stove, well-used sofas and a polished dining table, as well as a a collection of stuffed birds – and faux grass for carpets.

But if the local authority, Newport City Council, has its way, Gibbons, who has lived here for 30 years and partly raised four children in the quirky place, will have to abandon the structure because he had no license to build for housing. .

Exterior view of the Gibbons House built 30 years ago. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian

“It’s terrible what they’re trying to do,” Gibbons said. “He feels very vindictive of the council. I lived here quietly for 30 years, without hurting anyone. I didn’t try to hide – there’s a fireplace, clothesline, and you can see me on Google Earth. But they’re trying to figure out that I built this in secret.

Gibbons points out that creating spaces out of shipping containers is all the rage. “They have them all along Bristol Harbor [Cargo on Wapping Wharf – a trendy base for restaurants and shops]. They catch up.

He says he could try to keep fighting the decision and maybe even try to put his house on wheels to get around the planning rules. “I think it would be pretty simple,” he said. “It could come to that.”

Gibbons, who worked in recycling for years, said he decided to create his unusual home in 1992 after a family breakdown. “It seemed the best option.”

One of the lounges
One of the lounges. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian

Its location is wonderful, a few miles south of Newport town center in the Gwent Levels, low-lying land near the Severn Estuary, home to otters, voles and waders, which has been drained by the Romans to create a breadbasket for their army before a push into the Welsh mountains.

Although Gibbons insists he didn’t try to hide his house from planners, it’s hard to pinpoint the location. He sits behind a drainage ditch with a bramble hedge in front, and access to the yard where his house stands is through another structure housing two vintage tractors.

Gibbons’ house resembles Tardis, much larger inside than it looks from the outside, a series of living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms and a kitchen. He carefully insulated it, making it warm in winter and cool in summer. It has electricity and a septic tank. The world seems distant, perhaps because there are no windows. “You can get away from the frantic race here.”

At least until the bureaucracy calls. In January 2021, Gibbons received a notice ordering him to stop using the shipping containers as his home. Newport Council also claimed it carried out car repairs at the site, which it denies, insisting it was only repairing its vintage tractors. He appealed the opinion of Planning and Environmental Decisions Wales (PEDW), claiming that the accommodation was immune from enforcement action due to the length of its existence.

Gibbons denies the council's claims that he built his house in secret.
Gibbons denies the council’s claims that he built his house in secret. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian

PEDW came out in favor of counsel and said that “these positive acts of deception and willful concealment should strip the appellant of immunity.”

The claim that he secretly built his house is particularly vexatious. Gibbons considers himself a good citizen who tries to help his neighbors, keeping fly-tipped trash off the shared private road and recently helping capture an escaped bull. Most of the neighbors made it clear that they supported him on the council.

He also points out that he worked closely with the council in the past when he worked as a recycler and that he had been visited by officers over the years, which led him to believe that his house was legit. “I’m not hiding,” he said.

Cllr James Clarke, Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning, Housing and Regulation at Newport Council, said he was pleased that PEDW agreed with the council’s assessment that the structure was erected without permission and deliberately concealed in order to circumvent regulations.

“The planning regulations are in place for good reasons,” he said. “They seek to protect us all from inappropriate development and this decision demonstrates that deliberate acts to deceive and mislead will be uncovered.”

Gibbons is hoping for a reprieve. “Of course I’m proud of my house – it took me a long time to get it like this,” he said. “What’s the sense of me destroying it now?”

Gibbons outside the dwelling.
Gibbons outside the dwelling. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian