TWO areas in Chester could end up being designated as Gypsy and Traveller sites when council leaders meet next week.
Fifteen pitches plus an additional transit site could be made available across the two sites depending on what is decided by Cheshire West and Chester Council on Wednesday, September 7.
The sites being consider in Chester are:
Bumpers Lane – Adjacent to the Sealand Industrial Estate. One hectare needed to develop for 12 to 15 residential Gypsy and Traveller pitches. Envisaged medium-term availability (three-five years) although further ground condition work required to assess site suitability and viability.
Oakwood Farm, Saughall – a former Highways Agency site in the Green Belt. But this is felt to justify the very ‘special circumstances’ needed to qualify for planning permission as a transit site because it borders the A5117 – one of the main routes used by the Travellers in the north of the borough where there have been many unauthorised encampments.
Other sites being considered are: Rossfield Road in Ellesmere Port; Buildwas Road, Neston; Blakeden Lane/Browning Way in Winsford; and Road One in Winsford.
The council is hoping the allocation of these sites will help the authority win appeal disputes over rejection of unauthorised developments.
In the past, such appeals have been made on the grounds the council has not provided its recommended quota of sites.
The sites have been short-listed by consultant Ekosgen after a comprehensive survey of more than 1,300 potential locations across the borough.
Cllr Herbert Manley, executive member, regeneration, said: “Successive Governments have placed a statutory obligation on this and former authorities to provide sites in the borough.
“Until we meet that obligation, we are always going to be liable to lose planning appeals against our refusal to grant applications on unauthorised sites – even in the Green Belt.
“If the Executive approves the recommendation it is hoped it will bring CWaC within the allocated quota range of (32/45) pitches and should be sufficient to convince the planning inspectors that this authority is intent on fulfilling its obligations.”
Executive agreement will also the prompt the authority to apply for planning permission on the prospective sites and full public consultation will follow as part of that process.
It is intended that sites will be managed by a registered provider and that each pitch will equate to a family unit with tenants paying council tax and rent, water, electric and gas charges.
The licence/tenancy that Traveller families would sign before moving on to the pitch would be similar to those used with regard to regular housing and would cover all standards required as part of the tenancy agreement.
Cllr Manley added: “It must be stressed that these would be well managed sites with little negative impact on their surroundings. They will be run with the aid of multi-agency management groups, including representatives from the travelling community, police, businesses and council.
“We envisage that these groups will meet regularly to help break down community barriers, dispel myths – on both sides – and speedily deal with any issues that arise.”
A report to the Executive from director of regeneration and culture, Charlie Seward, stresses that the Government’s new draft policy Planning for Traveller Sites – requires local authorities to make their own assessment of need and plan for sites over a reasonable timescale.
It does not change the responsibility of local authorities to provide sites to meet evidenced local need. Nor does it remove the loophole surrounding Green Belt applications.
Such applications are considered ‘inappropriate’ development – unless justified by ‘very special circumstances’.
But planning inspectors have judged that a shortage of official sites meets that ‘special circumstance’ criteria and overruled the authority’s decision to reject permission.
Currently there are 24 pitches on seven sites that have been granted temporary planning permission all located in the northern part of the West Cheshire and Chester within the Green Belt.
But in his report to members, Mr Seward said: “As temporary permissions, none count towards meeting the authority’s identified need. There is therefore, an immediate priority to make additional provision.”
He warns that failure to address the issue of accommodation provision ‘is likely to lead to further applications being sought to develop residential pitches in less suitable Green Belt locations and result in continued unauthorised encampments’.