Imagine if Mad Max created a sustainable climate-friendly ‘village’ of creative artists in a disused quarry, in the middle of nowhere in the Cornish countryside. Sounds amazing... and it is, because it exists.

Trevone Quarry is a unique new idea of what an industrial estate can be in a world facing a climate emergency. You’d think such an idyllic business model would be wholly supported.

However, the 13 businesses based near Mabe Burnthouse, on the outskirts of Falmouth, have all faced eviction after Cornwall Council’s planning department served an enforcement notice two years ago for the land to be restored to how it was before (which was actually derelict, covered in upturned cars and rubbish).

The council argued that planning permission for part-agricultural and part-industrial use had been breached to include residential use and the site was not sustainable, and was also “visually objectionable”.

Trevone Quarry is the brainchild of mechanical sculptor Rob Higgs and his partner, artist and environmentalist Sophie Miller, who run art activism group Ocean Rebellion.

Over the years it has become a thriving hub for creative businesses – including a blacksmith, Fal River Distillery, world-famous sculptor Tim Shaw, artist Bex Bourne, 99p Films, Falmouth Food Co-Op and stonemason Joe Taylor – as well 11 acres of woodland, rewilding areas, three acres of indigenous apple orchards, two acres of nut orchards, a community garden, vegetable and soft fruit growing areas, food forests and beehives.

Rob wasn’t going to give that all up without a fight. “It would have seen the eviction of 13 businesses and three families for nothing, just ‘you’re not sustainable enough’.”


Rob Higgs and Sophie Miller outside their workshop and home at Trevone Quarry (Pic: Lee Trewhela / LDRS)

Rob Higgs and Sophie Miller outside their workshop and home at Trevone Quarry (Pic: Lee Trewhela / LDRS)

Aided by a lot of local support, Rob appealed the enforcement notice and a planning inspector recently found in his favour. The sense of relief on the faces of Rob and Sophie as they chatted to me in their extraordinary workshop home, for which they received planning permission, is palpable.

Sophie said the whole process of fighting the council decision was like being in a Kafka novel: “You fall through the gaps, your voices are no longer heard, you can’t talk to anyone or do anything. It’s a barbaric system.”

She said of the years-long planning battle: “We managed it, but the amount of stress it puts you under – it could really tip you over the edge. Someone I know who went through ‘planning hell’ said she seriously considered ending her life.”

Rob, who was based at the boatyard at Ponsharden, near Penryn, for 25 years, explained the genesis of the Trevone Quarry studios and how it turned sour.

“We started it because of the loss of small artists’ workshops all over Cornwall due to gentrification – 25 years ago you could rent a little unit for £5 or £10 a week but they’ve all gone, so I saw a strong need for that.

“We acquired the site in 2009 with a million tonnes blasting rights, which means we can blow up ten times what was there before. Obviously we didn’t want to blast so we were asking the council if we could create artists’ workshops and a nature reserve.”


Trevone Quarry\s own \village hall\ (Pic: Lee Trewhela / LDRS)

Trevone Quarry\'s own \'village hall\' (Pic: Lee Trewhela / LDRS)


He added: “They agreed and suggested we did it under industrial use. Five years later they came back and said ‘it doesn’t look anything like an industrial estate’. You told us to go for an industrial estate, we wanted an artists’ community!

“I reckon if it was tarmacked with a bucket of fag buts and a Portaloo, they wouldn’t have blinked. Each of the artists has given their plots love, with hens, gardens and compost systems, and the enforcement officers have turned around and gone ‘oh my God, this is residential, there are hippies’ and all that subconscious bias kicked in.” He argued the site has a residential air “because it’s got love to it basically”.

Renowned sculptor Tim Shaw was the first artist to move on to the site when he was commissioned to sculpt The Drummer for Truro’s Lemon Quay. Others who have set up their workshops over the years include Nick Murdoch, of Murdoch Design.

The 3D design company makes performance art for television, film and theatre, including a main stage design for the Secret Garden Party festival. Nick told me that if the quarry had lost the appeal, it would have been “pretty close to unrecoverable for us and it’s the same for a lot of people here”.


Rob Higgs in the dramatic surroundings of Trevone Quarry (Pic: Lee Trewhela / LDRS)

Rob Higgs in the dramatic surroundings of Trevone Quarry (Pic: Lee Trewhela / LDRS)


Rob explained Trevone Quarry’s ethos: “We are pro-actively creating a new model of an industrial estate, one where the natural world is woven into its fabric, where there’s no separation between the industrial activity and the natural world and the local ecosystem. One which also actively improves the immediate biodiversity thereby helping to build local resilience in line with the Cornwall Local Plan (CLP) and the Climate Emergency Development Plan Document (CE DPD), and with the appropriate level of urgency needed to address the climate emergency.”

He has worked with Cornwall Council in the production of its CE DPD, with Mabe Parish Council on its Neighbourhood Development Plan and is currently in discussion with Cornwall Council on future planning guidance regarding the 2025 CLP and rural industry.

“This is the frustration – we’ve been actively working with, pushing and steering Cornwall Council to create a policy for exactly what we’re doing here. Cornwall’s whole spirit is as a creative rural community, but anyone who puts their head above the parapet gets evicted and their workshops demolished. So we’ve been working on writing sensible legislation to accommodate that.”


Artists\ \industrial estate\ Trevone Quarry (Pic: Lee Trewhela / LDRS)

Artists\' \'industrial estate\' Trevone Quarry (Pic: Lee Trewhela / LDRS)


Rob says Cornwall Council has passed the most progressive OPDs, One Planet Developments, part of the Climate Emergency DPD, which is specifically about “alternative living” off the land.

“After years of not being able to make sustainable communities, finally policy has now changed and Cornwall Council is slowly moving in the right direction to create positive, genuine sustainable policies to allow grassroots people who want to do this and be allowed to do it, rather than the tokenist, corporate version of sustainability.”

The site is quite something – the working community is dotted around the vast expanse of woodland, often based in refurbished workshops from when the quarry operated, between 1877 and 1992. At its heart is a peaceful lake among quarried ‘cliffs’.

Trevone runs courses to create a community-built fleet of electric bicycles, tandems and a triplet, with a selection of custom-built, heavy-load trailers and a policy of 50 per cent workshop rent discount for every day that a tenant cycles in or out, rather than drives.

They grow around ten tonnes of willow and hardwood annually, and this provides considerably more fuel than is needed on site, free for tenants to alleviate fuel poverty. The quarry has its own borehole which provides the water needs of all those on site free of charge and for the surrounding agriculture. Solar water heating units have been built from reclaimed materials on site by the tenants.

There are a whole host of other sustainable principles, but I’d suggest paying Trevone Quarry a visit. I’ll guarantee it’s unlike any “industrial estate” you will have ever seen.