Plan for Derbyshire Traveller site rejected despite emotional plea

Desperate pleas to approve plans for a long-awaited permanent Traveller site in the Dales for two homeless families have been met with rejection.

By Eddie Bisknell
Thursday, 16th June 2022, 12:16 pm
Updated Thursday, 16th June 2022, 12:16 pm

At a Derbyshire Dales District Council meeting on June 14 plans to convert a former woodyard off the A6 in Homesford, near Cromford, were rejected.

The application, submitted by Mr and Mrs Hodgkinson, was hailed as a vital opportunity to solve a decades-long shortage of permanent Traveller sites in the district.

However, councillors ultimately decided that the chosen site, three kilometres from Cromford, on the fast-paced A6 in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, was neither suitable or sustainable.

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An aerial view of the rejected site

The district council has a legal duty to provide sites for two homeless Traveller families but has not yet provided them with a permanent place to call home, with one family currently staying on the Matlock train station car park.

During the meeting, Dr Siobhan Spencer, part of the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group, gave an emotional plea for councillors to approve the site

Dr Spencer said the site was approved as a temporary plot for three Traveller pitches in 2014 but funds were not available to develop it.

She said: “The historic search for land for Gypsy and Traveller sites in this district has been a long one.

“All the time, the need is getting greater.

“It is not like we are asking for 30 or 40 pitches, the need is relatively small compared with some areas. In an ideal world there is never going to be a perfect site but this one is not bad.

“There are more pluses to this site than there are minuses

“We have two elderly pensioners both in their 80s and late 80s respectively, and I would like all of the committee to reflect on how they would feel if their granny or great granny at this good age had no water facilities, no electric and no way of washing.”

Dr Spencer said the homeless Traveller families are in “urgent need” of permanent sites.

She said the families cannot access heating grants and that one of the family members is dependent on a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) machine (used by people with lung conditions affecting their breathing) and were currently “dealing with health conditions in a haphazard way”.

Roger Yarwood, a former planning consultant for the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups, told the meeting that “finding Traveller sites is a nightmare”.

He said: “Most planning authorities struggle to meet their assessed need and the Derbyshire Dales is having the worst time than most

“I was trying to find a site here 20 years ago and here you have a golden opportunity to solve this ages-old problem.”

He said previous rejected plans for seven permanent Traveller pitches on the Homesford site, from 2017, had relied on upcoming plans from the council to assign a site in Watery Lane, Ashbourne.

However, the Watery Lane site was taken off the table due to Derbyshire County Council plans for a bypass around Ashbourne.

Mr Yarwood said: “It will set an impossible hurdle to find a site if this is deemed unsustainable. You would have to find a site more sustainable than this one.

“In dealing with this application, you can either solve the problem of traveller site provision once and for all or make your continuing search for a site virtually impossible.”

Stephen Walton, a local resident opposing the plans, told the meeting: “To say that I am flabbergasted to be sitting here again, almost 11 years after the first submission for development of this site would be an understatement.”

Mr Walton called the site location “very dangerous”, saying: “It has not been deemed suitable for any form of long-term human habitation for so long for no reason.”

He said that comments had been made by the liaison group that the council must not “miss the boat” on approving the site.

Mr Walton suggested “that ship has sailed”.

Richard Walsh, who lives close to the site, said it was a former landfill, commenting: “Goodness knows what pollution is there.”

He said that officers say the Homesford is unsuitable, but a proposed Knabhall Lane site (near Tansley) is also a landfill and was deemed not suitable.

He said: “Obviously one landfill site is not as good as another one.”

The council had considered assigning land off Knabhall Lane near Tansley as a permanent Traveller site and spent 18 months investigating the plot, before deciding to drop it. The site is contaminated due to its previous use as a landfill and is also home to badgers who cannot be disturbed.

Mr Walsh said the Homesford site was “very isolated” and would involve “significant costs” to connect it to the water main, dubbing it “eminently and totally unsuitable for the use for which consent is sought”.

Chris Whitmore, a council planning officer, said the Homesford site was not suitable due to its impact on the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, and its impact on the landscape. He said the council was “committed to delivering a traveller site in the Derbyshire Dales area”.

Cllr Garry Purdy, leader of the authority, said: “I really wish you would have solved this 20 years ago, Roger (Yarwood), we all would have been much better off.

“I am sorry we can’t approve this, for a number of reasons, and it does pain me to say that because Dr (Siobhan) Spencer knows I have spoken to the families and I dearly wish that we could find a site for them.

“I am at a loss, Dr Spencer, in as much that I have always been led to understand that the families adamantly refused to go to Homesford, because of the dangers of the rivers and so forth, and the dangers of the road.

“We are still vigorously seeking land (for a Traveller site), we do have a slight window open, I am not going to name where because obviously we will get all the opposition cries coming out, but we are still vigorously pursuing a traveller site and will continue to do so.

“This is not the right site, it really isn’t.”

Cllr Richard FitzHerbert said: “We all in this room have a huge amount of sympathy for the applicant and we all understand the situation that we as a council face.”

He said the comments about the world heritage site had “great weight”.

Cllr Peter O’Brien said: “I don’t think it is suitable in any way shape or form for people to live in, whether they are Travellers, Gypsies or anyone else. I agree entirely that the site is not sustainable.”

Cllr Jacqueline Allison said the “sympathy” from Ashbourne councillors was “not genuine” due to opposition they had posed in May to temporary plans to house one of the homeless Traveller families on the Fishpond Meadows overflow car park in the town. Plans to temporarily house the family in Ashbourne were switched to a burial ground site in Doveridge, and then ultimately scrapped because it was no longer necessary.