Plans to create a new authorised gypsy and traveller site in Teignbridge have been approved, paving the way for a safer, healthier and more sustainable site for residents, nearby communities and local authorities.
Teignbridge District Council's Planning Committee voted 14-1 in favour of approving the 15-pitch application, put forward by Teign Housing, subject to some conditions being fulfilled.
The long-standing gypsy and traveller site in Haldon, near Exeter, has been unauthorised but tolerated by local authorities, including land owner Devon County Council and planning authority Teignbridge District Council, since it was first occupied in August 2001.
The authorities have been working with Teign Housing who will manage the new site and the residents to find a better-suited and permanent solution. At the meeting, held in Forde House, Newton Abbot, Teignbridge’s Planning Committee approved a recommendation to approve with some conditions attached including the need to carry out further survey work to look at whether there will be any impact on protected bird species. The surveys are expected to be carried out in the summer with work on the authorised site expected to start after that.
The decision follows years of work to find a suitable, sustainable and healthy solution for site residents, nearby communities, the wider Haldon area and all local authorities. In January 2012 the plan received a boost when Teign Housing, jointly with Teignbridge District Council, secured £1,115,000 in funding from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). The bid was based on providing a smaller authorised, licensed and managed permanent site with pitches and appropriate utilities.
The unauthorised encampment has long been considered to be unsuitable, both for those who live there - many of whom work locally and have children in local schools - the local environment and the surrounding residents.
The application sets out a permanent plan for 15 pitches with individual amenities including allotment spaces, a community building, recycling and bins stores and site roads. Residents will be required to sign an agreement to lease a pitch, pay rent and Council Tax. There will also be a site manager who will be employed by Teign Housing to deal with and assist with any problems.
The new plans create a tidier facility which has been designed to minimise the site’s carbon footprint while being energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Construction materials have been carefully chosen to keep the site within its woodland setting.
Extensive consultation and feedback was carried out before the plan was formally submitted to Teignbridge. It involved people living on and near the site, local communities, parish councils, all the relevant statutory organisations including Devon County Council, the Forestry Commission and the Plymouth and Devon Racial Equality Council, and members of the public.
Teignbridge has already helped some residents into homes locally. Pitches at the authorised site will be offered to the remaining onsite residents with the aim of creating a mix of families, couples and single occupants.
Cllr Philip Vogel, Teignbridge Executive Spokesperson for Housing and Planning said: “This decision is to be welcomed. This has not been an easy journey for any of us some difficult decisions have been made along the way but we needed to arrive at a compromise; something that would achieve the best outcome for everyone involved.
“Put simply, the site could not stay as it was: residents did not have access to suitable sanitation, the encampment was unauthorised and it was having a negative impact on the surrounding environment and the wider Haldon community.
“Like authorities up and down the country, we need to provide sites that are suitable for gypsy and travellers. This site will go some way towards addressing that need. We will work with Teign Housing to make sure the surveys that have been requested by Natural England are completed and any necessary mitigation is carried out.
“There has had to be some compromise on all sides but this decision, we believe, is the right one. By taking this measured approach we hope to create a site that is safe, regulated, and offer permanent homes that contribute towards local services by paying Council Tax.
“Everyone involved – whether that is residents, local authorities, stakeholders or local communities, realises a fine balance needs to be struck. I’d like to thank everyone for their views, support and hard work in what has been a complex and sensitive issue.”
Mike Hanrahan, Chief Executive of Teign Housing said: “We are really pleased that our plans to build a permanent site for travellers have been approved. After extensive consultation with the travellers and our partners, we believe that providing a permanent site is the most sensible solution. The site has been designed to be subtle and sensitive to its surroundings. It will be well managed and will offer sanitation and other essential facilities that the travellers have not had access to previously.
“This site, for new travellers, will be the first of its kind and has a unique opportunity to act as a model for similar opportunities within the district and across the country. There are lots of different opinions about this project, but we now have the chance to lead by example and build a better understanding and more tolerance of each other’s lifestyle choices.”
Travellers living on the existing tolerated site will remain there until the new facility has been constructed. Those who are not allocated a pitch will be helped by Teignbridge District Council’s Housing Options team to find alternative suitable accommodation. Enforcement action will be taken against any travellers remaining on unauthorised land.
Ownership of the land will be transferred to Teignbridge District Council.
Remediation works will be carried out to return the current site to its natural state.
The committee approved the recommendation subject to: