A planning inspector who refused to allow six gypsy caravans and a day room to be built near Benwick in the Cambridgeshire Fens accepted that it would mean at least one family facing winter being forced to “take up a roadside existence”. Joanna Gilbert of the Planning Inspectorate said: “This would detrimentally affect their ability to find work, their overall wellbeing, and the education of children.
“Furthermore, those members of the extended family who are presently on the road would remain in an extremely uncertain position, with associated negative effects on access to healthcare, education and work without a postal address”.
She concluded however that “having had regard to all material considerations, the benefits associated with the proposal do not outweigh the harms I have identified.
“Accordingly, the harms can only be adequately addressed by my dismissal of the appeal
“Interference with the human rights of the appellant (Andrew Smith) and his family is therefore necessary and proportionate.”
Part retrospective appeal
The appeal (part retrospective) had been lodged by Mr Smith but was refused, under delegated powers, by Fenland Council two years ago. It was for the siting of 6 x gypsy caravans, erection of a day room block, gates and fencing, and the formation of associated hardstanding (part retrospective) at Crazy Acres, Chase Road, Benwick near March.
Planning committee chairman Cllr David Connor backed the refusal, noting that “having visited the site and read the really informative planning officers report, on balance I feel that the officers have got the decision right to refuse the application by delegation
“The reason is flood risk as it in flood zone3 – reason 2 sustainability
“So please issue the refusal notice when you feel it is appropriate to do so.”
Negative effect on the area
Ms Gilbert said the proposal would have a negative effect on the character and appearance of the area.
And she said it would also contravene planning law “which confirms that local planning authorities should very strictly limit new traveller site development in open countryside that is away from existing settlements or outside areas allocated in the development plan”.
Fenland Council was quizzed during the appeal about whether it had sufficient traveller sites.
The council told the inspector that work was being done ahead of the new Local Plan to assess need; there were no additional sites allocated in the existing Local Plan.
“The council confirmed at the hearing that planning permission has been granted for 57 pitches since 2013,” said Ms Gilbert.
She said this indicated a level of need higher than that set out in existing assessment.
Given the lack of information “it is not possible to be certain of the extent of current need for pitches in Fenland,” she said.
Unable to identify 5 year supply of traveller sites
“Given the inability of the council to identify a five-year supply of specific deliverable sites and the apparent underestimation of need, I give significant weight to the provision of four additional pitches for gypsies and travellers.”
The inspector said a primary concern of Mr Smith was the wellbeing of his family, including the education of his grandchildren and his sister’s grandchildren.
All three children presently on site are attending the local school.
“One of the children has recognised special educational needs for which they receive specialist support,” said Ms Gilbert.
“Their headteacher has confirmed the importance of consistent schooling and ongoing specialist support to assist the child’s development.
“Local residents and the appellant’s family also spoke at the hearing of the importance of the children attending the local school, making friends, and attending local clubs and birthday parties.
“Reference was also made to the extended family’s attendance at a local church.”
Best interests of children
But Ms Gilbert added: “However, the best interests of the children will not always outweigh other considerations including those that impact negatively on the environment.”
She said Mr Smith had identified that seven children would be living on four of the six pitches, with an additional child expected in the near future on a further pitch.
Most of the children would be of school age and three are presently at the local school, which has further capacity for pupils.
“I understand it is intended that the four children not presently on site would also be enrolled at that school in due course,” she said.
“I accept that a settled base without overcrowding would be in the best interests of all the children in terms of their mental and physical well-being and development, engagement with their friends, and stable access to education, healthcare, and leisure facilities.
“Accordingly, I afford the best interests of the children significant weight.”
She concerns had been raised by Benwick Parish Council regarding further issues of overdevelopment and highway safety.
“I acknowledge that there is sufficient space within the site for the parking and turning of vehicles,” she said.
“I also note that the previous inspector did not find the appeal scheme for a total of eight pitches to be harmful in respect of highway safety.
“I have not dealt with the matter of overdevelopment in any detail as I am dismissing the appeal.”
“Notwithstanding that the proposal would be contrary to the development plan, it is necessary to consider whether there are material considerations which would warrant a decision other than in accordance with the development plan.
Considerations in favour of new travellers site
“There are several considerations in favour of the proposal. These include significant weight given to the provision of four additional pitches, significant weight to the personal circumstances of households 2 – 6, significant weight to the best interests of the children, and limited weight to alternative sites.
“I have identified that there would be harm to the character and appearance of the area and in respect of the suitability of the location with regard to proximity to services.
“Each of these main issues is given moderate weight.
“Given that the appeal site lies within Flood Zone 3, the proposal would constitute highly vulnerable development, and there would be children on site, I afford substantial weight to the harm associated with flood risk.
“Furthermore, it remains possible that the additional households would be affected by flooding, even if the permission was temporary in nature.”
Ms Gilbert said: “I have also considered whether any conditions would render otherwise unacceptable development acceptable.
“However, in this instance, I do not have sufficient certainty that this would be the case.
“Having had regard to all material considerations, the benefits associated with the proposal do not outweigh the harms I have identified. Accordingly, the harms can only be adequately addressed by my dismissal of the appeal”
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