Concerns over the wellbeing and education needs of gypsy and traveller children living near a Warwickshire village have failed to convince councillors to allow retrospective plans for their site on green belt land.
Special circumstances were put forward as a reason for approving the application for Fosse Corner, Monks Kirby, and these included making sure the children of the two families were able to access education and that their physical and mental wellbeing was taken care of.
Planning officer Chris Davies told this week’s June 23 planning committee of Rugby Borough Council: “Gypsy and traveller developments in the green belt are still considered unacceptable in principle unless very special circumstances exist that would outweigh the harm.
“The LPA [local planning authority] consider that this is a case of very special circumstances due to the significant under-provision of suitable allocated gypsy and traveller sites in the borough; the physical and mental wellbeing and educational needs of the applicants’ children; the gypsy and traveller status of the applicants; and personal circumstances.”
She recommended a three-year temporary approval but added that due to family circumstances, only limited personal circumstances had been made public.
Cllr Craig McQueen (Lib Dem, Eastlands) said: “I don’t want to take the chance of endangering children just because we are ignorant. In these circumstances we should be erring on the cautious side and supporting those children rather than throwing the case out because we don’t understand it.
“I think the halfway house recommended by the planning officer is probably the right solution - having a temporary reprieve for that family for three years.”
The committee also heard from planning consultant Philip Brown on behalf of the applicants.
He said: “It is unfortunate that the site was developed without planning permission. This is not against the law and was forced on my clients. They had a choice - either go on to the site where they could provide themselves with facilities or live on the roadside with no facilities.
“We are in a situation in Rugby where we have a housing crisis for gypsies and travellers. There’s plenty of land for conventional housing and warehousing but no allocation for gypsies and travellers.”
But there was also opposition to the plans with Cllr Bill Wooliscroft, chairman of Monks Kirby Parish Council, quoting from a letter from the Minister of State for Housing which stated: “Temporary or permanent traveller sites are not appropriate in the green belt and personal circumstances and unmet need are unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt.”
He added: “If approved, this sets a worrying precedent with claims of exceptional circumstances used as reasons for overturning other planning policies.”
Cllr Peter Eccleson (Con, Dunsmore) added: “I started this debate with great sympathy for the application. However, as the debate has gone on I draw a conclusion that this has been an attempt at planning permission by the back door. Unauthorised permission to start with and we’ve not clarified the special circumstances.”