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STAFFORDSHIRE: Gypsy families appeal against council’s caravan pitch refusal

STAFFORDSHIRE: Gypsy families appeal against council’s caravan pitch refusal

A Google Street View Image Of The Former Blackbrook Nurseries Site Off The A53 Newcastle Road

Gypsy families are battling against Newcastle Borough Council to stay on a caravan site set up without planning permission.

The Blackbrook Nurseries land off the A53 Newcastle Road was transformed into a residential caravan site last year – almost a year after a previous planning application for its change of use was refused permission.

A second bid to secure consent for four gypsy pitches, four amenity buildings, a stable and hardstanding was rejected by Newcastle Borough Council in August 2020. More than 230 people objected to the application for reasons including highway safety, inappropriate development in the open countryside and flooding concerns.

An appeal against the decision has been launched and a planning inquiry is now underway at the council’s Castle House headquarters. The hearing began on Tuesday (November 23) and is scheduled to run for four days, during which planning inspector Frances Mahoney will hear submissions from both sides and go on a site visit.

Jack Smyth, a barrister representing Newcastle Borough Council, spoke on Tuesday of “the reprehensible manner in which the site was established.”

He told the inquiry: “Whilst the planning system allows retrospective applications, recently the Government changed the guidance so decision makers can take into account the manner in which the breach of planning control arises.

“Here the establishment of the gypsy traveller site was clearly calculated and well-planned. The High Court was sufficiently concerned about the risk that even more work would be undertaken to expand and entrench the site that it granted an injunction to halt the ring and prevent further breaches.

“The unattractive track record of compliance reflects poorly on the appellants. The council doubts the appellants will offer any apology for their conduct – defiance will probably be the order of the day.

The council remains firmly of the view the site is in an unacceptable location for residential development. Had the appellants liaised with the council prior to establishing the unauthorised site they would have realised it occupies a sensitive location in a local landscape.

“The site enjoys protection under a local landscape planning designation. The unauthorised development causes significant harm to the character and appearance of the area. The two metre high acoustic fence in particular is a conspicuous and incongruent feature.

“The site is marooned off the A53, such that its occupants will inevitably be dependent on the private car. There’s no realistic public transport option for the site whatsoever, given the dangerous walk route on the A53, which is unlit and lacks a pedestrian walkway.”

But Mark Willers QC, representing the appellants, said there were bus stops a few hundred metres away from the site.

“There isn’t any significant conflict with the development plan and in the circumstances ask you to apply presumption in favour of sustainable development and grant planning”, he added.

“But if you conclude against us that there is some significant harm rising from the development we will be inviting you to look at the material considerations, which we would say outweigh that harm identified.

“That would include the national, regional and local need for gypsy site provision, the adequacy of the development plan policy and the fact that there is no five-year supply of developable sites, the personal needs of the site residents for a gypsy site, the lack of availability of alternative site provision, the personal circumstances of the site residents which are a separate factor from their need for a site and finally the human rights of those living on the site – and particularly the best interests of their children.

“In weighing those against the harm that may have been found to arise from the development, we would invite you to conclude that in this case permanent permission ought to be granted. Or failing that, at least temporary planning permission, subject of course to conditions which we would invite you to conclude can be imposed with the knowledge that they will be satisfied.”

Maer and Ashton Parish Council member Andrew Mainwaring also spoke on Tuesday morning.

He said: “The appellants’’ agent, Philip Brown, states that if the appeal fails it is likely that the families would have to leave the appeal site and take up a roadside existence. This would result in an interference with their human rights.

“The appellants were well aware their illegal actions could have resulted in them being refused permission, and that their resulting existence would be in jeopardy but of their own doing. I believe they came from a stable site in Cheshire and were not homeless.

“The 230 or so residents that wrote into the council objecting to the planning application were informed that their objections should be restricted to planning matters alone. It is evident that the appellants and their agent have used all sorts of emotive issues to highlight and prioritise their personal circumstances and health issues.

“Many law-abiding residents in the locality have personal feelings, needs, emotive issues and health conditions which were forbidden from being brought to the attention of the planners and the inspector.”

Mark Lee, who part owns the site and lives there with his family, revealed in 2020 they have faced verbal abuse from passing motorists and people snooping on the encampment.

Speaking last year he said: “There are four families here and we want to pay council tax. None of us are claiming benefits. We’re not going to cost the council any money.

“We want to show people who we are and what we’re about. We’re just normal people. We’re all one family, we’re all related. We’re not Irish travellers, we’re English Romany gypsies and we’re all local.

“There’s supposed to be a need in Newcastle for gypsy pitches – and there’s obviously a need as we’ve got nowhere to live.”

Words:  Kerry Ashdown, Local Democracy Reporter

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