Fears traveller site expansion could set nationwide precedentBy Laura Herbert
January 24, 2013
A Traveller and Gypsy site in Twyford will be expanded on to Green Belt land, despite fears that the decision will set a nationwide precedent.
Opposition and parish councillors fear Green Belt land across the country could be at risk after permission was granted to expand Wokingham Borough Council-owned Twyford Orchards.
Government guidelines state using Green Belt land for a Gypsy and Traveller site is not appropriate development, unless there are special circumstances.
The council argues this case demonstrates special circumstances as the site is overcrowded and breaches health and safety regulations, leaving the council open to the risk of a corporate manslaughter charge.
Speaking at the council’s planning committee last Wednesday, Councillor Jeremy Hardman, of Ruscombe Parish Council, said: “We suggest there is only one planning issue and that is, has the applicant presented a sufficiently robust case to justify, what even they acknowledge would be unsuitable development on the Green Belt?” He added: “Any development might be thought to set a precedent.”
Liberal Democrat Councillor Lindsay Ferris, added: “I have been in Twyford 20 years and I have no issues with people living on the site. I have grave concerns about not setting a precedent. It is outside Wokingham and other parts of the country that could be affected as well.”
The site will be expanded by 0.58 hectares to spread out the current 16 pitches and add a further four, which will only accommodate families already living on the land.
The project will cost £1.4 million made up of a £575,000 grant from the Homes and Communities Agency and £825,000 from council capital.
Applicant Simon Price, head of tenant services at Wokingham Borough Council, said: “Officers are conscious this is a lot of money in these times of austerity but it is an opportunity to regularise the site and make it to an acceptable standard.”
Cllr Bob Pitts, ward member said: “The council has put its hands up to the problem in the past. The problem in my mind is we have two options.
“We go for enforcement and eviction in which case where do they go?
“We would probably lose the court case because families have been there for 30 years, and we would go back to where we are now and lose the grant. The other option is to approve.
“It is a difficult one but I have to support the application.”
Cllr Chris Bowing added: “We don’t want to evict these people but we need to do something quickly.”
The plans were approved by six votes for and two councillors abstained.