Plan for permanent Derbyshire Traveller site looks set to be scrapped

A Derbyshire council is set to scrap a planned permanent traveller site for after nearly 18 months of investigations and decades of failed obligations.

By Eddie Bisknell
Tuesday, 26th April 2022, 2:07 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th April 2022, 2:09 pm
Knabhall Lane, Tansley had been earmarked as the district’s future permanent Traveller site.

This is due to the presence of a legally protected badger sett and contamination from its previous use as a landfill.

Derbyshire Dales District Council earmarked a site off Knabhall Lane near Tansley as a permanent and temporary traveller site nearly 18 months after a heated landmark meeting in September 2020.

This came after decades of failures to provide a permanent site for travellers to call home, for which the authority has a legal obligation.

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However, the Tansley site quickly encountered problems with access to water and electricity and due to its previous use as a landfill – all of which was known before it was earmarked.

Locals have also said that since the site was first pitched, badgers have been regularly seen on the site, but a council report appears to claim a sett was only discovered after it was earmarked and while it was being assessed.

In July last year, the council had approved £25,000 to be spent examining the site including contamination surveys to assess whether the plot would pose a risk to health.

The final bill, it is now revealed, came in under budget at £11,500.

Details of the ground contamination investigation have now been published, ahead of a meeting on Wednesday, April 27

Appointed ground investigation experts RSK found “relatively low” levels of contamination but said that the levels of lead and arsenic in the ground “may pose a risk to the health of future site users”.

This would require a remedial layer of new soil or for the contaminated earth to be removed.

RSK says the presence of a back-filled quarry has “significant implications” for structures which require foundations, such as a wash block, and works linked to hard-standing caravans.

It recommended further intrusive ground investigations and detailed that much of its investigations were limited by a badger sett, which cannot be disturbed.

Further works it has recommended could cost up to £231,000, the council says.

The council says in a report to be debated this week: “The site continues to have an outlying badger sett present and this presents a significant obstacle both to the completion of the ground investigations and the future use of the site.”

It says further assessment of the sett would be required if a planning application for a traveller site was to be submitted and this would include mitigation methods to avoid harm to the badgers and a licence from Natural England.

The council suggests that opposing neighbouring landowners would block necessary measures to further investigate the badger sett which would require the use of adjacent plots of land – such as camera traps.

Assessment of the badger sett would cost around £1,000.

The council also says: “If the development of the site was to proceed, the sett could be moved, but again given local opposition, this is only likely to happen within the site.

“This would still impede the overall developable area and place badgers in close contact with any future occupants and any pets they may have.”

As a result officers write: “Given the size of the site, the estimated costs and the number of pitches to be provided, officers consider that it would not be financially viable to spend such significant amounts of money in preparing the site for development.

“The site has several constraints which are difficult to untangle. A further badger survey is required to determine whether the outlying sett has become a main sett.

“In this regard, it is likely that neighbouring landowners will not consent to assisting with surveys and/or moving the sett onto their land. This means the badger sett will potentially always remain on the site.”

Officers write: “The badger sett has impeded the land contamination and geotechnical survey and it seems likely that without the sett eventually moving, the council will not be able to complete a full assessment of the entire site.

“The extent of the ground investigations and piling using heavy machinery close to the sett would disturb the badgers and would be illegal.

“This places a significant restriction on the site and the ability to provide the number of pitches required to meet identified need.

“There would also be a significant risk of developing a part of the site without full knowledge of what is in the adjacent ground or how stable it is.

“Given the results of the land contamination and geotechnical surveys, and the complications caused by the badger sett, officers have concluded the site is not developable at reasonable cost.”

The Government has set up a £10 million fund for local councils to bid for money to develop accommodation for travellers. However, these plans must be ready to go at the time of the bid and delivered within the current financial year.

The council does not have a planning application ready for the site, has not had one approved by councillors and has limited time to develop one and then would be rushed to carry out the development.

Council officers say they will now review all previous site search results to find another potential permanent and/or temporary traveller site.

Two weeks ago, Councillor Garry Purdy, leader of the authority, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It is extremely frustrating but we will not stop the search for a site. We have been looking at the Knabhall Lane site and we are looking at another site at the moment, too.

“When I was appointed leader I was determined to get a permanent traveller site.

“Work on the Tansley site has been going on for some time now and that tells you something about how well it is going, and the search through consultants has not worked out for us.

“The site at Tansley was the least problematic, we thought at the time, so we are continuing the search.

“We have to provide a site under the Local Plan and we have to provide one by law.

“The problem we face is everywhere we look to provide a site there is total opposition, total uproar. That is what we are up against.

“The families we have a legal duty for just want a piece of land to call their own and that is what some of the public don’t understand.

“They want their own plot of land to call home and until then they will keep having to be evicted from wherever they are.”

Earlier this month, Sarah Dines, Derbyshire Dales MP, said: “To not have a permanent site, we are not only failing residents, but also the traveller community.”

The council currently has a legal obligation to house two traveller families who have declared themselves homeless, one of which has been on the Matlock station car park for many months.

In September 2020, councillors rejected several proposed traveller sites on a former coal yard in Clifton, near Ashbourne, a site off Middleton Road near Wirksworth and the Old Staton Close car park in Rowsley.

In July 2021, councillors rejected a plan to adopt seven temporary traveller sites at:

Agricultural Business Centre, Bakewell Old Station Close, Rowsley Matlock Station Car Park Artists Corner Car Park, Matlock Bath Matlock Bath Station Car Park Land at Middleton Road, Wirksworth Fishpond Meadows Overspill Car Park, Ashbourne