Published: 00:01, 05 March 2018
A gypsy and traveller site on the outskirts of Canterbury could tonight become one of the biggest in England.
Plans to expand Brotherhood Wood, off the A2 near Dunkirk, have been recommended for
approval by council officers.
If passed by a planning committee, the number of pitches will increase from 29 to 40, with the total caravans permitted at any one time jumping from 42 to 87.
No other traveller site in Kent has as many pitches, and only sites in Wolverhampton, Greenwich, Peterborough, Leeds and Stoke have more.
The recommendation to approve the plans has been given despite suspicions the site already has more occupants than is currently allowed.
Counts carried out by Swale Borough Council suggest that in January 2017 there were considerably more caravans at Brotherhood Wood than permitted.
The site has also been investigated following allegations that most of its occupants are not gypsies or travellers with a nomadic way of life, but in fact migrant workers.
A planning committee document confirms these claims are “now the subject of ongoing investigation and enforcement action”, but despite this the council believes there is no material reason to refuse the planning application.
Cllr Gerry Lewin (Con), cabinet member for planning, says rejecting the application would result in unmet need for gypsy and traveller sites in the area.
“We technically ought to provide pitches every year and it supports that need,” he said.
“National planning policy for travellers requires us to make provisions for gypsies and travellers. That’s where Brotherhood Wood fits in.
“The site is recognised as contributing towards the gypsy and traveller allocation that we need to meet.”
Council leader Cllr Andrew Bowles (Con), who represents the ward the site is located in, has broken ranks and says he is “livid” that the application has been recommended.
“There’s the traffic impact, and the environmental impact of the destruction of woodland,” he said.
“I will be speaking against the application. It will sound a funny thing coming from the leader of Swale Borough Council but I’m concerned about the likelihood of any expansion, if it were to be approved, being in keeping with whatever conditions are imposed.
“Based on previous experience, I’m concerned about the ability of the borough council, the county council, Environment Agency, Woodland Trust or Areas of Natural Beauty to actually enforce any breaches.
"I just don’t see any way that anybody can properly enforce it.
“I’m surprised at the officer’s recommendation, given past experience, and I will be trying my very best to persuade members of the committee to oppose it.”
Dunkirk Parish Council has also objected to the plans, fearing the increase in numbers will exacerbate existing problems with the site.
A spokesman for Swale Borough Council said: “The application to increase the number of pitches within the already approved site has to be treated as a separate issue other matters on and around the site.
“The application would enable the provision for sites with touring caravans which meets the planning policy for travellers and showpersons’ definition for travellers, and ensures all facilities required are provided.
“The officer recommendation in no way condones the breaches that have occurred.
“At this stage we cannot do any more than we already have to deal with unauthorised development and occupancy issues or the tree removal issue, which are all currently subject to notices and court action.”
The application will be decided by Swale Borough Council’s planning committee tonight.
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