Record number attend gipsy sites meeting

ED FOSS The scale of concern over proposed gipsy 'short stay' sites in north Norfolk was evident at a packed public meeting.

ED FOSS

The scale of concern over proposed gipsy 'short stay' sites in north Norfolk was evident yesterday at a packed public meeting.

About 100 people crowded into the offices of North Norfolk District Council to listen to a cabinet debate about where to put the new sites, which are required by law.

The number of visitors was almost unprecedented for meetings of the council's cabinet. Although the monthly meeting is held in public, it is usually attended by a handful of members of the public at most.

Councillors decided to allow more time for discussions to be held about possible gipsy sites.

Rather than dealing with the topic as part of a much broader consultation into a major new planning blueprint called the local development framework (LDF), the gipsy issue will be dealt with separately.

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This will allow several more months before final decisions need to be made and let far more people have their say on the controversial plans.

Council bosses say they are caught between a rock and a hard place in terms of nominating the sites.

On the one hand they are being forced by the government to identify sites, while on the other they are trying to keep local people happy.

The current two suggestions - on farmland near Wood Dene School at Aylmerton near Cromer and on the Fakenham bypass near the football club - have met without anger from local communities.

At yesterday's meeting, the council's deputy leader, Clive Stockton, said: "The council is not the enemy here.

"We are faced with a dilemma and we have to find a solution as a community."

Mr Stockton said if the council failed to identify sites, the police and courts would not assist in moving on travellers.

And in the longer term, he added, there was the very real prospect of having a solution "imposed upon us" by a government inspector.

Margaret Craske said there was a great deal of work to be done on the subject and many questions needed to be asked, as well as risk-assessing the impact on businesses and tourism.

Mrs Craske proposed taking the gipsy issue separately to the rest of the LDF and setting up a working party to include cabinet and parish representatives. This group "must have the full trust of the public and the cabinet", said Mrs Craske.

A loud round of applause and cheering met Anthea Sweeney's suggestion of considering the idea of putting a gipsy site next to the council's Cromer headquarters on Holt Road.

"I think it would be ideal," said Mrs Sweeney.

More clapping greeted Benjamin Cabbell-Manners' description of having a site at the "gateway" to Cromer, Sheringham and the Runtons as "absolutely crazy".