A family of travellers have won a long fought battle to set up home on Rougham Hill in Bury St Edmunds.
A planning inspector has allowed a previously refused application from the Delaney family for a private five pitch site at Oak Woodland.
Following the decision, St Edmundsbury Borough Council is negotiating to lease the Suffolk County Council owned site to the travellers.
The site was recently registered by a group of residents The Friends of Oak Community Woodland as a community asset - giving them the legal right to submit a bid to buy the wood if the county council decide to sell or lease it for more than 25 years.
Cllr Sara Mildmay-White, cabinet member for housing at St Edmundsbury, said: “We are aware that there has been considerable community interest in the site, but this is an area of woodland that has been left unmanaged and little used over the years apart for anti social behaviour.
“Over recent months a group of concerned residents has come together and registered the woodland as a community asset. In the future should the county council, who own the site, decide at any stage to sell the land, the community will have a right to bid to buy it.
“In the meantime, we have a statutory duty to ensure there are sufficient travellers’ pitches to meet their needs and have identified this as the only suitable site in Bury St Edmunds to meet this need.
“A planning application by the Delaney family for five pitches on this land was previously only refused as a masterplan for the area had not been adopted. That is now in place and a planning inspector has ruled in favour of the application.
“We are currently negotiating with Suffolk County Council over the lease of this site. Once we have a lease arrangement in place, we will have greater control to stop the less salubrious activities that have being taking place in this woodland over the years.
“We will in turn sub-let the land on a long term lease with breakout clauses, to the Delaney family who have been living on a temporary tolerated site off Compiegne Way for the past 18 months while the planning application was decided.
“This will help towards our obligation to meet all housing needs, including accommodation for gypsies and travellers.
“We are mindful that members of the local community have concerns and we will be meeting with them to discuss any issues that they may have with regards the management of the site.”
A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “Suffolk County Council agreed to consider leasing the land to St Edmundsbury Borough Council should no other suitable site be available.
“Despite exploring a number of other options as part of the borough’s long term planning process, St Edmundsbury have confirmed that the site appears to be the only land available in the area that offers a long term solution for gypsy and traveller provision. The county council supports the need to find a long term answer for this family’s needs, and it is for this reason we have agreed to lease the land to St Edmundsbury Council for this purpose.”
Michael Hargreaves, planning agent for the Delaney family, welcomed the planning inspector’s decision and hopes to enter into negotiations with the council within the next few weeks.
He said: “It’s a good location. It’s right on the edge of the town but it’s a little away - it’s one that will work well for the travellers and wider community.
“The important thing is that we recognise that if the crisis in accommodation for travellers is going to be addressed, towns like Bury St Edmunds need to play their role in providing a home for a small number of travellers and that’s what this decision now enables.”
The Delaney family submitted an application two years ago to the borough council for a five pitch travellers site.
The initial application was turned down by St Edmundsbury Borough Council due to concerns about the loss of woodland and because a masterplan for 1,250 new homes in the area had not yet been approved. The masterplan which identifies the site as suitable for traveller accommodation has since been adopted.
In January, after the travellers lodged an appeal against the refusal of the original application, the borough council backed down.
Adrian Williams, chairman of the Friends of Oak Community Woodland, said they are ‘extremely disappointed by the decision’.
He said concerns remain about the loss of woodland.
Mr Williams said: “It was planted in the early 1970s for the people of West Suffolk and future generations. It’s now going to be lost and that’s very sad. I do believe it’s wrong for any form of development to go there.”