PLANS for 17 additional permanent sites for gypsies and travellers in Huntingdonshire should be ditched, according to Shailesh Vara MP

PLANS for 17 additional permanent sites for gypsies and travellers in Huntingdonshire - and five temporary ones - are no longer required by the Government and should be ditched without further ado, North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara insisted this week.

The MP, whose constituency covers north Huntingdonshire and most of the west of the district, said Huntingdonshire District Council should follow the example of South Cambridgeshire, Cambridge city and Peterborough in abandoning plans forced on them by the soon-to-be-defunct East of England Regional Assembly.

Instead - and in spite of a decree by the new Communities Secretary Eric Pickles - HDC was pressing ahead with a 'sham' consultation on the sites, which had already pre-determined the sites that merited detailed analysis, Mr Vara said.

The permanent sites include pitches at Bluntisham, Earith, Ramsey St Mary's, Somersham, Upwood, Warboys, St Neots and Alconbury.

"This is a diktat imposed on local people from up high," Mr Vara said. "HDC had been obliged to do it but I have spoken personally with Eric Pickles and he has said local authorities are no longer obliged to comply. South Cambridgeshire, Cambridge City and Peterborough have ripped up their previous proposals, and I have left the leader of HDC [Councillor Ian Bates] in no doubt that I think he should do the same.

"The regional allocation has become redundant, and on that basis alone HDC should withdraw it. If that doesn't happen, there will be a huge fight, and I shall be leading it for the community.

"I shall be with the people against having travellers' sites without the consent of the local people - and it is abundantly clear that such consent does not exist."

Mr Vara said it was equally clear that decisions had already been taken in advance of the exercise.

"This consultation is a sham," he asserted. "The summary [of the document] already suggests that certain sites should go forward to the next stage of consideration. What sort of consultation is it that has already drawn up its conclusions and printed them on page 7 of the consultation document?"

Councillor Doug Dew, HDC cabinet member with responsibility for planning policy, said there seemed to have been some misunderstanding of the consultation.

The public was being asked for views about sites suggested by landowners to the council - far more than would be required and some of them completely unsuitable anyway.

He said the council needed to finish the consultation so that it could acquire an evidence base for a future policy, without which it was vulnerable to losing appeals.

"Because we have no policy, a number of appeals have been allowed with temporary planning permissions that we have refused," he said. "So I decided that we should conclude the consultation to give us the evidence that we need," he said.

"There will still be some local need for traveller sites, even if we don't think it's as much as the Regional Spatial Strategy was trying to impose on us," added Cllr Dew.