Travellers’ site plans in dispute

TWO sets of plans to set up new gypsy and travellers sites in Huntingdonshire are likely to be blocked by planners next week, but a third plan to regularise another travelling family s currently illegal site could get the green light. Most inflammatory h

TWO sets of plans to set up new gypsy and travellers' sites in Huntingdonshire are likely to be blocked by planners next week, but a third plan to regularise another travelling family's currently illegal site could get the green light.

Most inflammatory has been a site in Catworth - 1.3 hectares of unused agricultural land that was bought and colonised by an extended gypsy family in the summer, prompting Huntingdonshire District Council in August successfully to ask the High Court to ban the illegal encampment.

The planning application for determination by councillors on Monday, for which officers are recommending refusal, seeks to site around 28 caravans and mobile homes there against overwhelming objections from many residents and three parish councils.

HDC planners say that, although the need for some additional traveller pitches in the district is accepted, this is not an appropriate place for them. In any case, only 20 extra pitches are needed in the district between now and 2011, according to a recent county council study. They should be provided on small sites of between four and six pitches to match existing sites other than the single, larger and long-established county council site near the railway station in St Neots.

The planners say that there are very limited facilities in villages close to the site, and many facilities, such as health care, could be reached only by car. The nearest GP is in Kimbolton, nearly five miles away. Moreover, they say the residents of the proposed 28 additional caravans would swamp the population of either Brington (81 adults) or Catworth (260 adults).

Officers say that local complaints that the site would become a "rural ghetto" are not valid planning objections, but the council would have to invoke powers if waste were not properly removed.

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Planners do not believe that the applicants' human rights override planning issues in this instance.

A family with two caravans in Pidley may be luckier, however. Planners are recommending a change of use for land at the corner of St Ives Road and Sheep Lane, in spite of an objection from Somersham Parish Council. The family has been there since 2003 and has made several applications, so far unsuccessfully, to stay there legally.

Officers are asking councillors to grant a three-year consent to be reviewed when the council's long-term policy is settled.

But they take a different view of an overgrown site near The Paddock in Chatteris Road, Somersham, where they are recommending refusal of consent for six pitches, to which Somersham Parish Council has also objected, as have the highway authority and drainage board, as well as more than 300 members of the public.

They say the application should be refused on overwhelming road safety grounds, even though it meets other conditions for short-term temporary consent.

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