Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence


Memorandum by Mr Robert A Searles (GTS 25)

INTRODUCTION

  I am a resident of Meldreth—a village in South Cambridgeshire. This evidence is given as a private individual but my background and expertise on the evidence is that I am vice chair of Meldreth Parish Council and I am therefore involved in local issues with the provision of sites for both gypsies and travelling showmen. These issues arise both in Meldreth and in the wider area of South Cambridgeshire. I am giving private evidence because there is insufficient time to have the evidence approved by the Parish Council before your deadline.

  At a meeting between officers and councillors of South Cambridgeshire District Council and representatives of parish councils with concerns on travellers on Thursday 20 May 2004 we were encouraged to submit written evidence to your inquiry. South Cambridgeshire District Council clearly stated that central government is continually overriding local decisions and they have been unable to enter into a satisfactory dialogue with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on this issue.

  While I understand that the committee will not deal with individual cases as part of the inquiry, the following background is given to help the committee understand both my concerns and the concerns of many in South Cambridgeshire.

  In the village of Meldreth we currently have on one of the roads leaving the village:

  1.  A derelict transit gipsy site provided and owned by Cambridgeshire County Council. This has been unusable for 10 years after it was destroyed by travellers and that part of the village became a "no-go" area.

  2.  An authorised site for travelling showmen that has integrated well into the village.

  3.  A small authorised family site which is well managed.

  4.  A planning application for a further travelling showmen's site adjacent to the existing one (2. above). This is subject to an appeal against refusal of planning permission by South Cambridgeshire District Council.

  On 4. above my concern, and the concern of other residents of Meldreth, is that the inspector will, on appeal, override South Cambridgeshire District Council, creating a concentration of travellers' sites and having a significant adverse effect on the rural character and appearance of the surrounding area. This would be against the South Cambridgeshire District Council Local Plan Policy HG 23 i.

CONCERNS

  1.  Local Plans and Local Development Frameworks incorporate policies drawn up locally in consultation between county councils, district councils and parish councils. These take into account the needs of gypsies and travelling showmen, the resources available in the locality to support travellers' sites, the character of the local countryside and the enjoyment by local people of their villages and the surrounding countryside.

  2.  In our experience locally there is considerable money available to travellers to both purchase arable land for sites and then to employ professional help to submit planning applications and, if that is refused, take it to a public inquiry. This is encouraged by companies such as Gladwish Land Sales ii who are selling land in small plots on the Internet and which has been the subject of debates in the House of Commons iii.

  3.  The experience of South Cambridgeshire District Council in the recent past is that inspectors of public inquiries are instructed by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to override the decisions made locally by giving more weight to the human rights of the travellers than to those of local residents.

  4.  This policy, as well as affecting the quality of local life, is severely stretching local resources and the ability of South Cambridgeshire District Council and other agencies (including the police) to maintain control and law and order. A well-publicised example is at Smithy Fen in Cottenham where 800 so-called "Irish travellers" arrived in Easter 2003 and have caused major problems and concerns to local residents.

  5.  There are currently six inquiries either awaiting decision or about to take place in South Cambridgeshire between March to August this year. This is severely stretching the resources of South Cambridgeshire District Council and since they will use outside Counsel to match the case put by the appellants this will add extra costs to be born by the council tax payers of South Cambridgeshire.

REFERENCES

  i  South Cambridgeshire District Council, Local Plan, Part 1, Adopted February 2004 POLICY HG23: Outside the Green Belt, proposals for caravans for gypsies and travelling show people on a site consisting of a single or more pitches, will only be considered when the need for a site is shown to be essential to enable the applicants to continue to exercise a travelling lifestyle for the purpose of making and seeking their livelihood. Occupation would be restricted to gypsies or travelling show people (as the case may be) and may be limited to a temporary period and/or for the benefit of named occupiers(s). Where the need is proven, to the Council's satisfaction, the following criteria will have to be met:

  (1)  The site is reasonably located for schools, shops and other local services.

  (2)  The site would have minimal impact on the amenities of existing local residents and adjoining land uses; concentration of sites will be avoided.

  (3)  The site would not, either on its own, or cumulatively, have a significant adverse effect on the rural character and appearance, or the amenities of the surrounding area.

  (4)  The site can be satisfactorily assimilated into its surroundings by existing or proposed landscaping; an approved landscaping scheme will be required.

  (5)  The use of the site would not give rise to unacceptable parking, highway access or service provision problems.

  (6)  The site would not adversely affect any buildings of historic or archaeological importance, or sites of wildlife or nature conservation value.

  (7)  Where planning permission is allowed, built forms of development will not be permitted except for utility outhouses. Small stables will be considered on their merits dependingupon need and the nature of the site.

  (8)  The site has adequate infrastructural connections to local services including water supply.

  (9)  The use would not detract from convenient, safe and enjoyable use of a public right of way.

  ii  www.perfectplot.co.uk

  iii  Hansard, , 4 April 2003: Column 1240, Adjournment Debate on "Rural Development" by Mr Alan Hurst (Braintree)

  Hansard, 8 Dec 2003 : Column 859, Planning Permission For Subdivision Of Agricultural Holdings For Purpose Of Sale


 
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