CWAC set to approve traveller sites

Development of one transit and five residential gypsy and traveller sites across west Cheshire and Chester, will be recommended to council leaders next week.

If approved on Wednesday 7 September, the move will help prevent Cheshire West & Chester Council's rejection of unauthorised developments being overturned on appeal on the grounds that the authority has not provided its recommended quota of sites.

The sites, located in Chester, Winsford and Ellesmere Port, have been shortlisted by consultants Ekosgen after a survey of over 1,300 potential locations across the borough.

Ruled out were areas subject to major planning constraints, the council said.

However, one site, a former Highways Agency site at Oakwood Farm in Saughall, is located in green belt.

The council added that this site 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 travellers in the north of the borough where there have been many unauthorised encampments.

Cllr Herbert Manley, executive member of regeneration at Cheshire West & Chester Council, 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 that 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 upon fulfilling its obligations."

The council said executive agreement will also prompt the authority to apply for planning permission on the prospective sites and full public consultation will follow as part of that process.

Cheshire West & Chester Council said 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 tenancy that traveller families would sign before moving onto 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.

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."

The council said a report to the executive from Charlie Seward, director of regeneration and culture, 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.

Cheshire West & Chester Council said it does not change the responsibility of local authorities to provide sites to meet evidenced local need and it does not remove the loophole surrounding green belt applications.

The council said such applications are considered "inappropriate" development, unless justified by "very special circumstances". Cheshire West & Chester said planning inspectors have judged that a shortage of official sites meets that "special circumstance" criteria and overruled the authority's decision to reject permission.

There are currently 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.

In his report to members, Seward said: "As temporary permissions, none count towards meeting the authority's identified need. There is therefore, an immediate priority to make additional provision."

Seward 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".

The shortlisted council-owned residential sites include:

  • Blakeden Lane/Browning way, Winsford. To the rear of Police headquarters. Could provide around 20 residential gypsy and traveller pitches and be developed within the short term
  • Buildwas Road, Neston. Could provide 12 residential gypsy and traveller pitches, and also be developed in the short term
  • Bumpers Lane, Chester. Adjacent to the Sealand Industrial Estate. Just 2.4 acres 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
  • Rossfield Road, Ellesmere Port. Currently a council depot. Could provide 15 residential gypsy and traveller pitches and be available in the medium term
  • Road One, Winsford. On Winsford Industrial Estate. Best suited to providing travelling show person accommodation, providing 10 plots

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