Decade of planning applications and appeals is example of travellers ‘manipulating system’, MP says

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A site that traveller families were originally told not to move onto in 2003 now has “a number of caravans, a few other buildings of a more permanent design and two large, high, wrought-iron, electrically-operated gates erected between pillars”

“The problems will continue unless we can finally put a stop to this”

Some travellers “flagrantly abuse” the planning system in Mole Valley according to MP Sir Paul Beresford.

The area is attractive to travellers from afar because it is close to London and Epsom Downs, Sir Paul claimed in Parliament last Tuesday (October 20).

However, there are building restrictions on 90% of the district due to green belt land, sites of special scientific interest and areas of outstanding natural beauty, he added.

“The councils and the population accept the need for traveller sites, but not without limit,” Sir Paul argued.

Mole Valley has 11 authorised traveller sites, two of which were recently given permission to expand.

But the current assessment for Mole Valley traveller requirements is 42 additional sites by 2027, with Surrey County Council having 65 families on the waiting list for the whole county.

In drawing up its draft local plan, Mole Valley District Council has indicated that planning of housing numbers may be reduced to reflect the difficulty of allocating sites for housing where there is such a high proportion of green belt land.

Sir Paul has now appealed for traveller site requirements to be dramatically lowered for Mole Valley and Guildford, plus other areas with similar problems.

Planning appeals

He highlighted the way a “very few” travellers “manipulate the system” in a way that would not be tolerated if other residents were doing it.

He gave the example of a patch of green belt land adjacent to a farm and the River Mole which was sold to travellers in 2003.

Mole Valley District Council served an injunction on the families not to move onto the site, but this was ignored and they set up there in August 2003.

There followed a series of applications for pitches, first nine then four, which were each refused and then rejected again on appeal.

An appeal in May 2007 permitted residency for four years to allow alternative accommodation to be sought, but a month before the expiry date in 2011 three further applications were submitted which were all again refused, appealed over and given temporary permission again for five years to find an alternative site due to children.

‘Minor stately home’

Sir Paul said: “Since the travellers’ 2003 arrival at the site, the area has been fenced, a fast-growing hedge has been planted and a number of caravans and a few other buildings of a more permanent design have been placed there.

“Also, to my amusement, two large, high, wrought-iron, electrically-operated gates have been erected between pillars, as if they were the entrance to a minor stately home.”

He said the travellers in question were not from Mole Valley but the district council had been told it had a responsibility for the family, despite the fact that if they asked for social housing they would have been classed as intentionally homeless.

Sir Paul added: “These are not the only traveller problems in the area, and the problems will continue unless we can finally put a stop to this.”

Brandon Lewis, minister for housing and planning, replied: “There is frustration in communities about such behaviour.

“It is important that authorities plan for the future of their communities, including travellers, in a way that is locally appropriate,” he added, also saying that temporary and permanent traveller sites were seen as inappropriate development in the green belt.

Mr Lewis accepted a delegation from Mole Valley and Guildford to discuss the matter further.

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