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Folkestone and Hythe District council defends land choice for permanent traveller camp on Romney Marsh

Questions have been raised over the suitability of a plot of land earmarked to become a permanent campsite for members of the traveller community.

Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) launched a consultation on their proposal to add a site to accommodate four residential pitches to their Places and Policies Local Plan in September.

The land earmarked for development
The land earmarked for development

More than 40 potential sites across the Shepway district were assessed by the authority, with a parcel of land off Lydd Road, in Old Romney, Romney Marsh, ultimately being chosen as the preferred site.

This land was put forward by private landowner, the Penfold family, as the council’s assessment was underway, but was considered against the same criteria as the other potential sites.

Now, the results of that consultation have been released in a report from the authority, which also includes responses to some of the issues.

In total there were 47 responses, although a further three were redacted for not meeting the requirements of the Equality Act to 'eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation'.

While three representations supported the plot as a 'suitable and viable solution to meeting the housing needs of the gypsy and traveller community', others were not so favourable.

A screengrab of the front of the report
A screengrab of the front of the report

The potential flood risks, access to the site, concerns of overcrowding, sustainability and the fact that work had already started were among the issues raised by respondees.

It was also questioned why 'Romney Marsh is being required to satisfy 100% of the needs of the gypsy and traveller community'.

In response to this, FHDC said: "At present, approximately 13.5% of new homes proposed for the district are directed to the Romney Marsh character area.

"The addition of four traveller pitches or 'homes' will not affect the balance of spatial distribution between character areas, when considering the broad range of different types of accommodation that the council is required to plan for."

The council's response also stated that other traveller families have already set up home on the Marsh, adding: "The council cannot control which part of the district residents or members of the travelling community choose to settle or acquire land within."

It was also queried as to why the land destined for Otterpool Park, near former Folkestone Racecourse, had not been assessed by the council.

In reply, the council explained the preparation for the Otterpool masterplan 'preceded the findings of the gypsy and traveller accommodation assessment study', adding: "Given that proposals for the garden settlement have advanced significantly, it is considered that the council’s land ownership at Otterpool as well as other private landownerships are not currently available for reassessment or further consideration."

A concern was also raised by Historic England that the site includes the remnants of the Rhee Wall, a non-designated heritage asset but with potential for archaeological remains of an 'equivalent significance'.

But FHDC argued that the plans will not require the need for 'deep excavations to lay foundations that could disturb buried archaeology'.

All the responses will now be considered by the independent planning inspectorate, who will come back with his recommendations.

The proposal will then go to full council and cabinet before a decision is made,

A planning application has also been submitted by the Penfold family in regards to erecting five mobile homes, along with an access road and community hall on the land.

This is subject to approval by the council.

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