Planning inspector approves gypsy pitch

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A senior planning inspector has backed a Romany gypsy’s appeal to set up a pitch at a West Suffolk village - and questioned whether a council can meet demand for traveller sites.

Kath Ellison, of the Planning Inspectorate, has permitted Sophie Oakley to use land in The Birches, Glassfield Road, Bardwell, to station caravans with one gypsy pitch, a three loose box stable block and a utility/dayroom ancillary.

She also awarded Miss Oakley costs to be paid by St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which refused her proposals last September.

It argued that the ‘need for the siting of a single travellers pitch does not outweigh the harm which would be caused by the change of use of the land’ and would introduce a ‘visually intrusive and discordant feature’.

In a witness statement, Miss Oakley, 25, said she wanted to live at The Birches with her mother and father and they are currently ‘doubled up’ on her brother’s plot on a private site, in Woolpit.

In the appeal decision, Mrs Ellison felt that a Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessment ‘overestimates supply in the borough’ and ‘the level of demand is likely to have been underestimated’.

In her conclusion, she said the plan ‘would have some adverse effect on the character and appearance of the countryside’.

However, ‘there would be significant benefits associated with meeting need in circumstances where no alternative sites have been shown to be available and where there are strong grounds to question whether existing need and future supply will be adequately addressed through the local plan process’.

Matthew Green, partner at Green Planning Solutions - the agent representing Miss Oakley - said the inspector had taken ‘exactly the course’ he would expect.

Peter Sanderson, chairman of Bardwell Parish Council, which expressed concerns about impact on the landscape, said: “We’re disappointed at the outcome. However, we’ve now been through the process and we have to accept what’s happened.”

A spokeswoman for the council said they issued a call for sites during their 2010 Rural Site Allocations document consultation and none were identified.

A further call has been made during the final consultation for the Rural Vision 2031 to ‘assess whether the situation has changed in the last two years’.