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Council orders work to stop on suspected "traveller" site in countryside at Elham

By Chris Pragnell

A gypsy landowner has been ordered to stop bulldozing an idyllic countryside plot amid fears he is developing a travellers’ site.

Villagers in and around picturesque Elham have gathered 900 signatures petitioning against groundworks at a holiday park in the Nailbourne valley.

Shortly before Easter a construction team began laying foundations for 45 hard standings at the site, prompting furious claims that the new owner was “raping the countryside”.

Protesters gather at the proposed site

Council enforcement officers have now served notice on his workers to down tools as the authority investigates.

But concern is mounting that the owner, William John Smith, is planning to house long-term static caravans on his property.

Public records reveal he refers to himself as a gypsy and has recently been ordered by the Secretary of State to stop using land in Middlesex as a gypsy pitch.

Chairman of Elham parish council Briony Williamson

Briony Williamson, chair of Elham Parish Council, told the Gazette: “People are worried it could become a long-term stay caravan park. There are fears it could become a travellers’ site.

“We want to give him [the owner] the benefit of the doubt, of course. But we want Shepway council to see that this is not a suitable development.”

The land, known as Elham Valley Holiday Park at the former Palm Tree pub on Canterbury Road, has existing permission for use for up to 45 touring caravans.

Mr Smith, who was this week unavailable for comment, began bulldozing the land late in March to the dismay of local residents.

According to Ms Williamson, villagers already felt the 45 capacity was too large for the site, which sits in a flood plain and was inundated last year.

They are also concerned Shepway council’s licence for the park lacks robust conditions to prevent abuse.

Elham Valley Holiday Caravan site.

At a crowded parish council AGM on Monday evening, at which the issue was discussed, the authority failed to send any representatives.

However, a spokesman has since sought to reassure local residents that the licence stipulates that caravans can remain on site for no more than 21 consecutive days at a time.

Mark Luetchford said: “The licence that is in force is for a touring caravan park and that is what we are making sure it is used for.

“The council has served a temporary stop notice on the site owners with effect from May 6, which requires that works on the land cease for development of bases for caravans, supply of services to the plots and the toilet block, and works to an earth bund along the length of the river Nailbourne.

“During the 28 days that the temporary stop notice is in effect, officers intend to discuss with the owners how the requirements for compliance with the site licence could be met and will provide pre-application advice in relation to the works that need planning permission.”

According to public records, Mr Smith appealed against his local authority’s decision to stop using land in Staines near Middlesex as a gypsy pitch.

A planning inspector allowed the appeal, but the inspector’s decision was subsequently overturned by the Secretary of State in November last year.

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