Bid to remove traveller site restriction rejected by councillors

Hawkwell Park, Hawkchurch

Hawkwell Park, Hawkchurch - Credit: Archant

A bid to remove a restriction allowing people who are not from a gypsy and traveller background to occupy pitches at a rural site has been unanimously rejected.
Hawkwell Park, in Hawkchurch, was originally granted planning consent in 2007 for occupation of the site only by those that meet the definition of a gypsy/traveller, with this being the main reason why it was granted permission despite being in a countryside location.
But for a number of years, that condition has been breached and homes have been occupied by those from the settled community – including on occasions when East Devon’s own housing team has sent people there for emergency accommodation.
A retrospective application to remove the tie restriction occupancy to gypsy and travellers only went before councillors on Wednesday afternoon, but East Devon District Council’s planning committee unanimously agreed with the officer recommendation and refused the application.
Outlining why he recommended refusal, development manager Chris Rose said that the site is isolated from services and facilities needed to serve occupiers day to day needs so that reliance would be on private modes of transport, and there is also an identified ongoing need to provide occupation for the gypsy/traveller community.
He said that East Devon still needs to find an addition 13 gypsy and traveller pitches in order to meet their Local Plan requirement, and that if the occupancy tie on this site was removed, then it would mean another site or sites for the 12 lost pitches would need to be identified.
And he added: “Even if there wasn’t the gypsy and traveller tie, then this site is still not suitable for unrestricted housing in the open countryside.”
But applicant Amy Cater said that the scheme aims to regularize something that has been happening for many years and has provided homes for people who have been made homeless or have difficulty in living in town centre locations. She said that it would not stop the pitches being used by gypsies and travellers but allow others to live there as well without the threat of enforcement action.
And Cllr Paul Hayward, who represents the Yarty ward in which the site lies, said that he was in favour of the application and that it was a complex case and the deviation from policy was necessary.
He said: “What is in front of you now is subject to enforcement action due to the actions of East Devon District Council, and we have sent non gypsies to this site, in contravention of planning rules, so we have caused us to take enforcement action and caused the breach.
“This is a solution to co-exist as we have sent vulnerable people here and the two purposes can co-exist so it is available for gypsy and travellers but as a backup to house vulnerable people where housing needs are complex or so urgent that finding emergency accommodation isn’t possible.
“This is a policy departure but it will benefit the occupants here and I don’t wish to see the site fall into dereliction and disrepair. I support the proposal and regret that part of the enforcement caused by EDDC itself.”
However, Cllr David Key said that there was no excuse for the removal of the restriction on occupancy, and Cllr Philip Skinner said that while he has sympathy for the applicants, ‘finding gypsy sites is a really difficult proposition and allows this would open up a can of worms’.
And Cllr Kim Bloxham added: “I would be very concerned to lose 12 pitches out of the number required across the district.”
Councillors unanimously voted in favour of refusing the application and for the occupancy requirements to remain solely for those from a gypsy and traveller background, and now a planning inquiry will be held in July over enforcement action launched by the council last year over the breach of the conditions.
If the applicants lose their appeal against the enforcement action, then anyone occupying the site who is not from a gypsy or traveller background will be legally required to leave.
 

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