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Expansion of Fordwich travellers’ camp gets the go-ahead

By Gerry Warren

Gypsies have won a landmark battle to expand a caravan camp after a planning inspector ruled Canterbury City Council has failed to identify enough travellers’ sites in the district.

The authority had rejected an application for eight more caravans at Moate Farm off Stodmarsh Road in Fordwich.

But the inspector has now overruled the decision and granted permission, blaming the council’s lack of traveller provision as the main reason.

A Google Earth image showing the expanding Moate Farm site

Inspector Richard Clegg said there was a “clear, existing need” for gypsy and traveller sites in the district, which was not currently being met by the council or earmarked in its Local Plan.

He also considered that although there would be some adverse effect on the character and appearance of the area, it was outweighed by the benefits of the proposal.

It is not a view shared by Fordwich Town Council and the Friends of Fordwich, which have been fighting the siting of caravans at Moate Farm for more than 15 years.

The plot now has permission for up to 14 static caravans as well as touring caravans, with opponents suspecting the latest ruling will pave the way for a continuing expansion.

Town councillor Roger Green says previous applications for more mobile homes had been rejected by inspectors, the most recent specifically referring to preventing further encroachment into the countryside.

“We thought we presented a very strong case against the application and were optimistic the inspector would uphold the council’s decision,” he said. “But now it looks like there is nothing to stop the site continuing to grow.”

The latest proposal was refused by the city council’s planning committee on the grounds it was against its policy on developing in the countryside, as well as presenting highway safety issues and threats to protected wildlife.

But Mr Clegg dismissed the concerns, saying the site was sustainable for travellers and adequately screened.

Moate Farm in Fordwich

Addressing his comments about provision for gypsy and traveller sites in the district, council spokesman Rob Davies admits the authority does not have a five-year supply.

He added: “The application for Moate Farm was refused on the grounds of the landscape, ecological and traffic impact. Between our decision and the appeal being held, the applicant provided the planning inspector with further information on these issues.

“In assessing the appeal, the inspector on balance concluded the needs of the applicant outweighed any planning concerns and granted the application.

"We thought we presented a very strong case against the application and were optimistic the inspector would uphold the council’s decision" - Roger Green

“We are currently assessing the level of gypsy and traveller need in the district, which will determine the number of sites that are required. Next year, we will produce and consult on a draft plan for this.”

Joe Jones, of the Gypsy Council, said councils were wasting thousands fighting appeals which they were losing due to the shortage of traveller sites.

He claims local authorities are giving misleading statistics about the existing provision and calculates that at least 40 extra permanent pitches are needed in the district.

“The trouble is that even if new sites are included in the Local Plan, some councillors will still force a debate at planning meetings and get them refused which inevitably leads to a planning appeal and more cost to taxpayers,” he said.

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