Bid to remove restriction from East Devon gypsy and traveller site is rejected

East Devon councillors have rejected a bid to remove a restriction that only gypsies and travellers can stay at a caravan site in Hawkchurch.

The district council’s Planning Committee heard Hawkwell Park has for years been used to house vulnerable and homeless people, breaking existing rules.

And members were told the authority has taken enforcement action – despite breaching its own planning policies by utilising the plot for emergency accommodation.

Planning consent was originally granted in 2007 to allow Hawkwell Park to be occupied only by people who meet the definition of gypsies and travellers.

A retrospective application to lift the restriction was unanimously turned down by the committee at its April meeting.

Recommending refusal, EDDC development manager Chris Rose said the site is isolated from services and facilities needed to serve occupiers’ day-to-day needs.

He added that would mean a reliance on private modes of transport.

Mr Rose also said there is an identified, ongoing need to provide pitches for the gypsy and traveller community – with 13 still needed to be found to meet its targets.

He added that, if the Hawkchurch occupancy tie was removed, it would mean a dozen further pitches would be needed.

Mr Rose said: “Even if there wasn’t the gypsy and traveller tie, then this site is still not suitable for unrestricted housing in the open countryside.”

The applicant said the scheme aimed to ‘regularise’ something that has been happening for many years; providing accommodation for homes for the homeless and people who have difficulty living in town centre locations.

She added the change would not stop pitches being used by gypsies and travellers, but allow others to live there without the threat of enforcement action.

Councillor Paul Hayward, who represents the Yarty ward in which the site lies, was in favour of the application and said: “What is in front of you now is subject to enforcement action due to the actions of East Devon District Council.

“We have sent non-gypsies to this site, in contravention of planning rules, so we have caused us to take enforcement action and caused the breach.

“This is a solution to co-exist as we have sent vulnerable people here and the two purposes can co-exist, so it is available for gypsies and travellers but as a back-up to house vulnerable people where housing needs are complex or so urgent that finding emergency accommodation isn’t possible.

“This is a policy departure, but it will benefit the occupants here and I don’t wish to see the site fall into dereliction and disrepair.

“I support the proposal and regret that part of the enforcement caused by EDDC itself.”

However, Cllr David Key said there was ‘no excuse’ for the removal of the restriction on occupancy.

Cllr Philip Skinner added that he had sympathy for the applicant but said: “Finding gypsy sites is a really difficult proposition and allowing this would open up a can of worms.”

Cllr Kim Bloxham added: “I would be very concerned to lose 12 pitches out of the number required across the district.”

Councillors unanimously voted in favour of refusing the application and for the occupancy requirements to remain solely for those from a gypsy and traveller background.

A planning inquiry will be held in July over enforcement action launched by the council last year over the breach of the rules.

If the applicants lose their appeal, anyone occupying the site who is not from a gypsy or traveller background will be legally required to leave.

Mobile community Covid testing is rolled out in East Devon and Exeter

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