Published: 10:42, 10 September 2019
| Updated: 18:05, 12 September 2019
Plans to establish a permanent campsite for members of the traveller community in Kent have emerged.
Folkestone and Hythe District Council have launched a consultation asking residents for their views on setting up the site on green space in Romney Marsh.
The proposals emerged after the planning inspector informed the authority they needed to identify a space for pitches in the district as part of the Places and Policies Local Plan.
More than 40 potential sites were assessed, but the only one "suitable for development" according to the council is a 1.5-acre parcel of land off Lydd Road, in Old Romney, adjacent to The Retreat, an existing residence.
The site, which is privately owned by the The Penfold family and described as "predominately grassland that is overgrown and unmanaged" and surrounded by "arable farmland", could accommodate four pitches, an amenity block, parking for static and touring caravans, visitor parking and storage, if approved.
But complaints about the plans have already rolled in.
A Marsh resident, who did not want to be named, is frustrated that work on the allocated land has already begun despite the six-week consultation only opening last week.
This refers to a mobile home already in situ.
The resident said: "The work on the site has been largely completed before a consultation has started.
"It's outrageous. Normally the correct procedure is first the consultation over whether or not a site is appropriate for housing development takes place.
"If the site is acceptable then a planning application is made and there is another consultation on the planning application itself.
"If the council approves the planning application the development proceeds.
"Here we have a consultation on whether this is a suitable site for travellers starting last Monday, as the development of the site itself is nearing completion.
"Just because people are travellers doesn't mean they can circumvent the law..." - a resident
"That means the suitability of the site has yet to be formally approved and there has been no planning application or approval for the work done on the site.
"Moreover shrubs and trees were destroyed without permission when fencing the site.
"This is an outrageous abuse of process which the council has obviously allowed.
"Just because people are travellers doesn't mean they can circumvent the law."
But the council says development on the site has now halted after enforcement officers visited it.
Cllr David Wimble, the council's cabinet member for economy, said: "The Planning Inspector has told us we have to address the expected number of gypsy and traveller residential pitches needed in the district until 2036/37 within our draft Places and Policies Local Plan.
"Following a comprehensive search for appropriate sites, the council has identified land adjacent to ‘The Retreat’, Lydd Road, Old Romney as its preferred location for four permanent residential pitches.
"This is the only available and suitable site we have located.
"The Planning Inspector will consider the proposed site as part of the ongoing Places and Policies Local Plan examination following the six-week public consultation which launched this week.
"All comments received will be considered by him.
"We are aware that some work has already taken place on the site in advance of the consultation.
"Enforcement officers have visited the site and formally advised there should be no further works before any valid planning permission is granted."
The consultation will run until 5pm on Monday, October 14.
For more information, click here.