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Inquiry into controversial caravan site in Headcorn hears village has one of highest traveller populations in country

A village home to 'Kent's own Dale Farm' has one of the highest traveller populations in the country, it has been claimed.

That was the evidence ward member Cllr Martin Round (Con) gave to a public planning inquiry considering the future of the encampment, on land to the rear of The Meadows, in Headcorn.

Cllr Martin Round
Cllr Martin Round

Maidstone Borough Council issued enforcement notices on the Lenham Road site in August 2018, but the caravans' occupants have appealed the notices and countered with a raft of retrospective planning applications.

Now a government inspector is considering a total of 17 appeals at the inquiry, which was held at Maidstone Town Hall last week.

Cllr Round said his ward contained between 2 and 3% of the entire 22,710 traveller population in the country, who comprised - at times - around 15% of the village population.

Although travellers had been welcomed in the Weald of Kent for hundreds of years, Cllr Round said: "There is no denying that recent years increases in numbers and certain sites in particular have caused concerns.

"As a ward member, I get frequent communications about many issues regarding gypsy and traveller sites - and this includes from the gypsy and traveller population itself.

The entrance to The Meadows gypsy traveller site in Lenham Road
The entrance to The Meadows gypsy traveller site in Lenham Road

"There is now a perception of inequality and ridicule when it comes to the planning laws, especially when so many fields see occupation by a few caravans that then increase in number and enforcement action is not forthcoming."

The barrister representing the travellers, Alan Masters, has dismissed any suggestion that the travellers were dominating the community.

He said: "There are about 107 caravans - the numbers are inconsequential."

But Cllr Round went on: "In recent years, the community has also seen some serious crimes together with regular incidents of anti-social behaviour and reckless acts of driving, together with other problems in public places and where shops and businesses experience other issues."

Neighbours had previously told the hearing they had experienced threats, intimidation and abuse from the residents of the site.

Cllr Round said: "Sadly many incidents are not reported to the police because there is a fear of retaliation."

Cllr Round acknowledged that the hearing was to resolve planning matters, but he said: "There are many and complex issues associated with this site.

The site is located off Lenham Road, Headcorn. Stock picture
The site is located off Lenham Road, Headcorn. Stock picture

"It is the one hot spot that causes most concerns in my feedback.

"There is no way of saying otherwise; this site causes many concerns in many other ways and it does not help the gypsy and traveller community nor the settled community."

"We need to get these planning matters resolved. Frankly this site epitomises how much of a mess the whole planning process is in."

Cllr Round said that the frequent changes on the site and the constant coming and going of residents made it "a challenge for officers to oversee and administer the law."

He said: "It’s a situation with no real solutions.

"It's stressful for officers and the appellants and that reflects on the wider community.

Planning inspector Diane Sharp
Planning inspector Diane Sharp

"But whatever is resolved the site needs mitigation and better management, control and some planting…please.

"It needs trees and the return of wildlife now lost in the area."

Cllr Round was speaking on the third day of the inquiry at Maidstone Town Hall.

It has now been adjourned until December 12.

Cllr Round was angry at the delay. he said: "It's farcical."

The hearing took place at Maidstone Town Hall
The hearing took place at Maidstone Town Hall

"These appeals relate to enforcement notices arising from 2017, which in turn arose from grants of temporary planning permission in 2004.

"Here we are, 18 years later, facing another two-month delay."

Judith Norris, a planning consultant who has been representing Headcorn residents at the hearing, said: "I think we have been able to paint a picture of the impact of this site on the community.

"We looking forward to a resolution, because frankly it's very damaging to the landscape."

One member of the audience at the inquiry earlier last week said: "This site is our Dale Farm. The outcome will be of massive significance to the village."

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