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Traveller family win right to stay at Histon, Cambridge

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A planning inspector approved four new gypsy/traveller pitches, four touring caravans and cess pits after pointing out that South Cambridgeshire District Council has failed to provide enough sites.

Planning inspector Hollie Nicholls said that council had accepted it cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of sites for travellers that meet the planning guidelines insisted upon by Government.

“The evidence supports this and, consequently, I find no reason to reach an alternative conclusion,” she said.

“In my view, the current level of unmet need appears to be substantial, considering the high number of ‘unknowns’ in the 2016 GTAA (Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment), the lack of policy allocations to address the need and taking into account the number of current unauthorised pitches at Moor Drove alone.”

She allowed an appeal and gave planning permission for the four gypsy/traveller pitches comprising the siting of 4 mobile homes, 4 touring caravans, and installation of 4 cesspits at Moor Drove, Histon, Cambridge.

Ms Nicholls said that where an up to date 5-year supply of deliverable sites cannot be demonstrated, “this should be a significant material consideration when considering applications for the grant of temporary planning permission, with exceptions such as where sites are in the Green Belt”.

She added: “Even if the weight to be attributed to this consideration is suppressed by way of the site’s location within the Green Belt, it does not change the current position that there is a high level of unmet need and lack of supply of sites.”

She said these factors help to explain the rationale of the applicant, Michael Connors, for seeking an alternative solution to address his and the extended family’s needs.

She said that an updated assessment of sites by South Cambs Council was under way “though the trajectory for the formulation of such is unclear and likely to be some way into the future”.

Lucy Frazer, the MP for SE Cambs, also provided representations to the council over concerns about safety and the fear that “thee ablution blocks are existing and may now be in use as dwellinghouse”.

Ms Frazer said her constituent claimed that the council “are not taking the necessary steps to protect Green Belt, biodiversity, and also the safety of the local community given the harassment nearby residents have received from the traveller community”.

The council noted that there are currently 9 applications pending consideration (or recently refused) for similar proposals within the immediate vicinity.

“Officers understand that all applications relate to the same extended family/travelling community,” they noted.

“This application relates to 22 people, of which 11 are aged 16 and under at the time the applications were lodged.”

The council’s own gypsy and traveller liaison officer said that the main issue is “a lack of culturally appropriate accommodation”.

His summarised report said that “some gypsy and traveller families have been reluctant to provide information for accommodation needs assessments, often due to many such assessments having been done over the years, with little or no change to their ability to find pitches and homes.

“I believe that these assessments may therefore not give the best representation of current need. To support the application for additional pitches at Moor Drove, it may help to understand the day-to-day reality of the council’s own sites”.

The report stated that South Cambs Council owns two sites with a total of 32 pitches and there is always a lengthy waiting list for both sites as turnover is very low.

In the last 7 years only 2 pitches have become available on the Cambridge site due to the death of the tenants.

The report said allocations are made based on priority needs, with 40-50 applications per pitch. Existing families and overcrowding is also an issue.

“Children grow up and start their own families and want to stay close so the ability to find a suitable site is very limited,” said the report.

“Gypsies and travellers are the largest ethnic minority in South Cambridgeshire and the different sites reflect the very diverse families and subgroup dynamics.

“For example, if there were 2 pitches available on the predominantly Irish traveller site in the district, it would be illogical to suggest moving Romany gypsies or travelling showmen on there. The dynamics and relationships run deep, and it would not be for an outsider to recommend this alternative.”

The report said the site at Moor Drove is well established and the residents are settled.

“The family members rely on each other for support, childminding, health needs and employment. There is a very-positive family dynamic,” said the report.

“Every child of school age is in full-time education, registered at the local doctors and some children regularly attend Addenbrooke’s hospital. There are complex and extensive personal circumstances which means the residents rely on each other for support.

“Many families attend the drop-in with the traveller health team in Cottenham every Wednesday. This drop-in is vital so we can support them in various issues in their lives as many cannot read and write.”

The report added: “Options to live with their community are very limited in South Cambridgeshire district due to the lack of sites.”

Histon and Impington parish council opposed the application, concerned about the harm to the Green Belt and “concerns with regards to the 4 cesspits and how they will be constructed and maintained to avoid damage to the environment around them”.

The planning inspector noted that Mr Connors and his extended family had lived on the site since early 2021.

She said that around half of the adults living in the caravans had “largely ceased to travel due to old age, ill health or similar circumstances”

The inspector said that “the extended family support one another and wish to continue doing so. Therefore, I consider it appropriate to treat the needs of the members of the extended family together.

“The council is correct in asserting that the appellant has not provided written evidence of an extensive search of sites, either within or outside of the Green Belt; a designation which covers approximately 25% of the district.

“However, the evidence outlines that prior to moving onto the appeal site, the extended family attempted to stay together either doubled up on other pitches, or living on the roadside, having been moved on regularly.”

And she noted the “insufficient capacity” at the council’s own sites had already been outlined.

Ms Nicholls said: “Officers comments also indicate that options for travellers to live with their community are very limited in South Cambridgeshire due to the general lack of sites.

“The council’s evidence does not identify any tangible alternatives to the appeal site.”

She said Mr Connors and his extended family were in need of accommodation and there were presently no identifiable alternative pitches on public or privately-owned sites that would be available or suited to them.

She also highlighted requirements of the Human Rights Act and the United National Convention on the Rights of Children in respect of the application and appeal, the European Convention on Human Rights as enshrined in the Human Rights Act (1998) and Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act.

The inspector ruled that the occupancy of the site should be restricted to the family “and all of the other extended family members as their personal circumstances have contributed to my finding of very special circumstances.

“Furthermore, it should be for a temporary period of up to 5 years, with a requirement to re-instate the site afterwards”.

 

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