Inquiry into gipsy site dropped

A public inquiry into whether five gipsy families should be allowed to stay on a controversial site in south Norfolk has been cancelled at the 11th hour.

A public inquiry into whether five gipsy families should be allowed to stay on a controversial site in south Norfolk has been cancelled at the 11th hour.

But the withdrawal of an appeal against the decision to refuse planning permission for the travellers' site at Middle Road, Denton, comes as a disappointment, not a relief, for villagers. For the Smith, Jay, Connors and two Coates families have resubmitted an identical planning application, for a three-year permission, to one which was refused in May. Neighbours opposing the site had already spent thousands of pounds instructing a barrister and were hoping the issue would be finally decided at the public inquiry on January 9 and 10.

It is the latest twist in a saga which began when seven families - two have since left - moved on to the two water meadows, which they own, in October 2003. Their initial application, for permanent permission, was turned down by South Norfolk Council and by a public inquiry.

The latest moves are thought to be a tactic to delay any eviction from the site. South Norfolk Council is unlikely to make a decision on the resubmitted plan for two months, and a refusal could again be followed by an appeal - which could take another year.

Phil Brown, the travellers' Warwickshire-based agent, said in a letter to the council that the families had a proven need for somewhere to live, and that new government guidance advised against gipsies and travellers being evicted without somewhere to move to.

He said: “These are different circumstances to those under consideration by the appeal inspector when deciding whether to grant a temporary planning permission…The inspector was also led to believe that the council would assist my clients in finding a suitable alternative site, and that there were likely to be many sites in south Norfolk that could meet the council's selection criteria. This confidence was clearly misplaced.”

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Paul Whitham, the council's development control service manager, said: “The application is identical to the one refused last May and which was to be the subject of the public inquiry. The site notice and consultations will be sent out early next week.”

South Norfolk Council will decide on January 8 whether to revoke its decision to let the gipsies move to Rushall Road in Harleston, in the light of new highways advice. Officers are expected to recommend refusal because allowing the temporary three-year site would mean cutting down five mature trees.

Philip Waltham, South Norfolk Council's cabinet member for planning matters, said: “Because of the disappearance of roadside land, the 50 or so travelling families in South Norfolk have lost many of their traditional stopping places. Many travellers are having to live under conditions that lack even the basic amenities of a water supply or paved area to keep their children and few possessions out of the mud.

“If the council builds only one site then of course it will be overcrowded, which will cause complaints, but if we have a few very simple resting places spread out over the area, then the numbers on each will be relatively small and have less local impact.”

“At the end of the day help and care are the ways forward and we have a duty to all in society especially when, as with traveller families, we are considering the needs of growing children and the very young.”