Council must find traveller’s site ‘urgently’

ROTHER District Council must identify land for a travellers site as a matter of urgency, according to the chairman of Battle Town Council.

Cllr Ron Harris has written to the district council expressing the town council’s concern over unplanned travellers sites in the town.

This follows news that a site which was set up illegally at Greenacres in 2010, was granted permission to stay.

The three caravans were refused planning permission by Rother District Council, but the decision was overturned last month by the Government Planning Inspectorate.

In a letter to Derek Stevens, the chief executive of Rother, Cllr Harris asked why the district council had “still not grasped the nettle” of travellers site identification in Rother.

Cllr Harris said: “I acknowledge the naming of potential new sites was bound to result in objections.

“But the fact was no such sites have been designated and as a result in Battle now had travellers living at two separate unplanned locations.

“For several years now Rother has acknowledged the need to identify further sites.

“However when Rother’s September council meeting received a question on progress on the subject the answer was to the effect potential sites were not to be consulted on before next summer.”

Cllr Harris added: “Battle Town Council members despair. They called for a sense of urgency in dealing with the matter.

“They asked why it was not being dealt with as a matter of priority, separately from the policy on conventional housing.

“They reasoned that if the council’s proposals as to sites throughout the district were known there would be at least some basis for denying planning permission on other sites.”

Cllr Harris told the Observer councillors acknowledged travellers had as much right to have their housing needs addressed as the rest of the population – but stressed it had to be on a planned basis within the scope of planning law.

Cllr Harris said: “Rother’s lack of a policy is not only creating problems, it is proving to be expensive with cost being awarded against Rother in the latest case to go to appeal.

“Battle wants an assurance that the underlying problem of an absence of progress in identifying potential travellers’ sites is being fully recognised and addressed by Rother.”

Rother District Council head of planning Tim Hickling said: “Identifying sites for the traveller and gypsy community is currently a matter of national debate - this is an issue not unique to either Battle or indeed created by Rother’s actions.

“As part of the plan making process we are making the identification of gypsy and traveller sites a priority, although this is an increasingly complex process in the light of the of the Government scrapping the South East Plan.

“The issue of site allocation is being addressed initially with the core strategy, out to consultation at the moment, and then on to the site allocations document next year.

“Rother agreed with Battle Town Council in broad terms by rejecting the mentioned application.

“However an independent planning inspector disagreed with us both on this matter and could find no reason for refusing the application, awarding costs to the applicant in the process.

“The Inspector stated the site had both a minimal impact on the local area and residents.

“It is therefore debatable whether site allocations would have any impact in this case anyway, despite the statement made by Cllr Harris.”