Councillors in Gillingham have expressed strong opposition to plans for a new residential caravan site for four gypsy families between Gillingham and Mere.
Though the site at Jane Oaks Farm is just inside Wiltshire, councillors on Gillingham Town Council’s planning committee said that the proposed development, which includes the erection of two ‘amenity’ buildings, would impact this area, especially the hamlet of Huntingford that is just 500 metres away.
Councillor Graham Poulter said he had written to the Wiltshire Council planning authority to express his views on the plans.
Councillor Poulter complained that there has been a ‘complete failure to attempt any “cross border” cooperation’ regarding the application. ‘Given the proximity of the settled hamlet to the site it seems to me that there can be no clearer case for such cooperation,’ he said, noting there was a statutory duty to cooperate
‘Neither Gillingham Town Council nor its planning committee have been given notice of this application and have therefore been denied the opportunity to comment, adversely or otherwise. It was only when concern was raised with me by the residents of Huntingford that I became aware of it and alerted the council,’ said Councillor Poulter.
In that email he also said that it was a ‘speculative’ application and that there was ‘no evidence whatsoever’ of prior consultation with the local community as required under Wiltshire planning rules. ‘No current evidence of need has yet been produced either by the council or the applicant. No personal need has been demonstrated by the applicant,’ he added.
Both he and the committee chair, Councillor Val Pothecary, told Monday’s online planning committee meeting that there was already a existing gypsy and travellers site nearby on the B 3095.
‘Which is currently very much underutilised,’ said Councillor Pothecary, who also said that the site was unsuitable as it was in ‘the middle of nowhere’.
‘It’s always hoped that gypsy and traveller sites would have access for the children to get to school not too far away, and this seems to fly in the face of all that,’ she said, noting the lack of consultation over the plans.
Councillor Mike Gould, who said the plans were ‘totally unacceptable’, said the area was already running out of greenfield sites.
Committee member and Gillingham mayor Barry Von Clemens told the meeting: ‘If this were in our parish and under our planning regulations I would say that it failed on so many counts that it isn’t really worth the application being put in.’
Local resident Anthony De Ritter said the development of the site with up to 40 people would be potentially ‘catastrophic’ for the local community and pointed to a concern that more caravans could be sited there in future.
‘Government guidance specifically advises against the placement of gypsy and traveller sites in open countryside. Particularly if they’re likely to dominate the settled community. This site is only 500 metres from Huntingford which has a population of substantially less than 40 people,’ he told the meeting.
Councillors heard that Mere Town Council has also opposed the application.
Gillingham councillors voted to recommend refusal of the plans, saying that it was an unsustainable site with no access to education, health, welfare and employment infrastructure, and that there were concerns over highway safety, and that a brownfield site should be chosen over a greenfield one. They also noted that alternative sites were available.