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Neighbours of travellers given planning hope

By Rachael Woods

Worried residents living near a travellers site which sprung up without planning permission, have been offered a beacon of hope.

Three chalets and a caravan appeared in a field off Blind Mary's Lane, Bredgar, between April 2 and April 3, leaving nearby residents upset and the council powerless to act.

Sittingbourne county councillor Mike Whiting, who has spoken to residents about their concerns, said the situation had arisen because legislation allows the land owner to apply for retrospective planning permission.

And under current law it is "almost impossible" for councils to then refuse permission for such encampments.

But Cllr Whiting said this meant travellers were treated more favourably than settled communities with planning applications.

But a change in the law due to be enacted later this year will tip the balance away from the encampments and will be taken into consideration in cases like the one at Bredgar.

MP Gordon Henderson told Cllr Whiting that the government had asked council planners to take the scrapping of the current law into "material consideration".

Mr Henderson added: "When the Bill is enacted later this year, then all planning applications will be treated the same and we will see the end of the two-tier system we now have."

Swale council has served a served a Planning Contravention Notice requesting details of the site occupants and their intentions.

A spokesman said: "At this stage we cannot reasonably do more despite the callous disregard for the regulations that has been shown."

He added that the Bredgar camp lies within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the council had been successful in appeals against gipsy and traveller sites in the AONB at Badlesmere and Throwley Forstal.

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