Published: 15:05, 25 June 2021
| Updated: 19:48, 26 June 2021
A council is seeking legal advice after caravans set up camp next to an ancient woodland - something neighbours say is affecting the mental health of the local community.
Residents of Leybourne are growing increasingly agitated after caravans and mobile homes turned up on a plot off Birling Road, opposite to Leybourne Grange Riding Centre for the Disabled. Diggers and construction vehicles have also regularly been spotted visiting the site.
On Monday, Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council (TMBC) issued a temporary stop notice and a planning contravention notice for the site, which is the subject of a pending planning application for two stables.
But, Prideaux Planning Ltd, acting as the agent on behalf of applicant Thomas Fisher, say Mr Fisher is seeking approval for two mobile homes and two touring caravans as well as space for keeping horses.
The council is yet to see that application, but the pending one already has more than 100 objections registered against it.
The stop notices were designed to prevent any more work being carried out on the site, or anyone living there, but neighbours claim this has been flouted.
A fence has also been erected, and West Malling and Leybourne Borough councillor Nick Stapleton says he understands Tonbridge and Malling council are seeking legal advice.
“This is something that could go on for some time,” said Cllr Stapleton (Lib Dem).
“It’s not going to be as simple as getting them off the land and restoring the land.
“I have tried to say to residents ‘Tonbridge and Malling council are doing this and this’. But I really do sympathise with them.
“It is easy to say ‘there are rules Tonbridge and Malling council need to follow’ but we are not the ones living by the site.
“So I do understand residents’ frustration.”
Fellow West Malling and Leybourne councillor Brian Luker admits he doesn’t think there is an easy fix, either.
He said: “The stop notice is in place but past experience suggests it will be ignored as they have placed a planning application in with the council.
“The process is being taken forward but I cannot suggest a quick outcome.”
Cllr Stapleton added: “On Thursday afternoon, there was an update from Tonbridge and Malling council’s director of planning to say they are monitoring the situation.
“They have said there are now six caravans on site. They have said they are living in them which goes against the terms of the notices.
“Tonbridge and Malling council have also been seeking legal advice, I understand, because this is not something that happens every day.”
A spokesman for TMBC said: “The site is subject to regular inspections to establish any further breaches of planning control.”
An article four directive has also been submitted by council planning officers.
That restricts the scope of permitted development rights and is designed to be used to control works that could threaten the character of an area of acknowledged importance.
But as that will be subject to appeal, it will not come into effect until July if challenged.
A woman from Leybourne, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “People are frightened.
“What with Covid, they are only just getting out of their doors.
"The whole mental health in the area is being affected.”
Another woman from the village who also didn’t want to be named added: “I’m from a council estate.
“As bad as it sounds, I can look after myself to a degree but I know when I need not to say anything.”
Last year, Prideaux Planning Ltd were involved in a similar case with Basildon District Council, where the local authority was successful in preventing caravans and mobile homes staying on a site in Wickford, Essex, in November.
In another incident in Leybourne recently, travellers locked themselves in at a site and asked the public not to park in front of the gate while they also created a homemade sign which says they need access 24/7. That land is owned by Highways England.