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Fenland Council faces criticism in gypsy and traveller site ruling

Appeal site at Gall’s Drove, Guyhirn, Wisbech St Mary

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A council that accepts there is an “immediate unmet need for gypsy and traveller sites,” and confirms it has failed to respond to need, has been criticised by the Government Planning Inspectorate. Planning inspector Frances Mahoney allowed an appeal against a decision by Fenland District Council to refuse permission for a touring caravan, mobile home, and a day room.

The decision was made under delegated powers after planning committee chair Cllr David Connor said he “absolutely” agreed with the refusal.

He said the applicant had not provided enough information about who intended to live there and the site on land north of The Spinney, Gall’s Drove, Guyhirn, Wisbech St Mary, was also in Flood Zone 3.

But in an appeal decision released this week, Mr Mahoney pulls apart the council’s gypsy and traveller policies.

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“The council has five local authority sites accommodating 64 family pitches, along with private sites across the district accommodating over 300 caravans, as well as a transit site,” says Mr Mahoney.

“There is a current waiting list for pitches with 16 persons on it.

“In the absence of a robust evidence base in the form of an up-to-date Gypsy and Traveller Need Assessment (GTANA) and resultant expression of need, the council accept that at this stage, they don’t know what the need for gypsy and traveller accommodation is within their district.

“As a result, the council confirmed that they would offer no evidence that would disagree with the appellant’s case in respect of need.”

He said planning law requires the council to maintain a local assessment of need for GTANA pitches, both permanent and transit. The council is reliant on findings from November 2013 although an update is to be published later this year. The 2013 assessment concluded there was no need to identify any new pitches.

The inspector also dismissed the demand to know more about those living there.

“I have also considered whether this should be a personal permission specific to the appellant,” says Mr Mahoney.

“However, there being such a strong case in respect of the unmet needs of the general gypsy and traveller community within the district I do not consider that the personal circumstances of the appellant need to be factored in.”

He said the applicant (Sarah Smith) was an “accepted member” of the community and could comply with a “general occupancy condition which is justified in this case of general need”.

Mr Mahoney said: “Further Fenland District Council cannot demonstrate a five-year land supply in this regard; as a material consideration the council ascribe significant weight in favour of the appeal in respect of this inadequacy.

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“The ongoing failure of planning policy in respect of responding to meeting housing need for the gypsy and traveller community further adds considerable weight in the positive side of the balance of the decision.”

Mr Mahoney says the council only accepted the applicant was a member of the gypsy and traveller community during the appeal.

Following that, he said, the council dropped some of its objections.

Mr Mahoney said he also noted that the council were unable to identify any available, suitable, acceptable, and affordable alternatives for the appellant.

The site is on land north of The Spinney, Gall’s Drove, Guyhirn, Wisbech St Mary. IMAGE: Google

The site is on land north of The Spinney, Gall’s Drove, Guyhirn, Wisbech St Mary. IMAGE: Google

There was no merit, therefore, he says in requiring the appellant to go back and undertake a theoretical exercise of sequential consideration of alternative sites “which even the council cannot suggest or direct the appellant to”.

He also threw out the council’s argument that there were few local amenities near the site.

“However, there are bus stops along the B1542 close to Gall’s Drove which provide services into Wisbech and March where services are more readily available,” he says.

“Due to the appeal site’s rural location, I consider it likely that any future occupants of the proposed pitch would have some reliance on a private motor vehicle for transport needs although travel distances to services are reasonable.

“This is not uncommon in rural areas and is certainly not exclusive to the gypsy and traveller community. I have no doubt it would equally apply to the settled community in the immediate vicinity.”

The inspector also agreed the permission is permanent, and also not specific to the applicant.

Flood risks were also dealt with in his findings.

 

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