Council rejects controversial plans for traveller site on woodland in Bury St Edmunds

The woodland, off Rougham Hill, where the proposed traveller site would have been built
The woodland, off Rougham Hill, where the proposed traveller site would have been built

Controversial plans to allow community woodland in Bury St Edmunds to be used for a five-pitch traveller site were refused today.

The application, for a family-run residential traveller site at the eastern end of Rougham Hill, had attracted widespread criticism, with several petitions and more than 40 objections lodged against the proposal.

Applicant Kevin Delaney had proposed it as a permanent base for his family, who have been living and working in the area for four years.

Members of St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s development control committee were recommended to approve the application today - despite acknowledgement that doing so would conflict with the council’s own planning policy.

The land forms part of a strategic growth area for 1,250 homes, as identified in the council’s Vision 2031 document, which states ‘applications for planning permission will only be determined once the masterplan for the whole site has been adopted’.

Members were advised the family’s ‘urgent actual need’ for a site, as demonstrated by a number of recent unauthorised encampments, ‘warrants a departure from the adopted development plan’. They were told the land, acquired by the county council in 1960, had no specific restrictions preventing it from being sold.

Speaking at the meeting, Adrian Williams said: “I believe it is, with respect, not yours to give to any private individuals - it’s for the people to hold.”

Cllr Sarah Stamp said the land was ‘very clearly’ designated for community use and was frequented daily by residents and dog walkers.

She said she failed to see how the application could be considered ahead of a masterplan being adopted and that doing so would be ‘immoral and inappropriate’. She said ‘bending the rules’ for itself would jeopardise the ‘credibility of the planning authority’.

Agent Michael Hargreaves called the reasons for refusal ‘thin’ and pointed out that council officers had suggested the site to the Delaney family who had made the application after ‘in good faith’.

A motion to defer until after the adoption of a masterplan was defeated 11 to two, while a second motion for temporary approval, suggested initially by Mr Hargreaves, was defeated 10 to five.

For refusal, there were 10 in favour and five against.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Hargreaves said: “It’s very clear the masterplan has to include the location of a Gypsy and traveller site. If we’d had that it would have been much more difficult to refuse and so we’re optimistic that through the masterplan, in parallel with a potential appeal, we will find a permanent home for the family.”