Traveller families facing uncertain future may find new home in Bexhill

Two traveller families will find out tomorrow (Thursday 13th August) if their attempt to secure planning permission for a site in Battle has been successful.

The group of four adults and five dependent children have already placed two mobile homes and two touring caravans on land at the rear of Firtee Cottage, Netherfield Hill.

And they are applying for retrospective permission, which is due to be discussed tomorrow morning by Rother District Council’s planning committee.

However, planning officials are recommending it’s refused – and that enforcement action is started that could lead to the families having to leave the site.

They have also suggested that alternative sites on land east of Watermill Lane in Bexhill could be more suitable for them. 

Rother District Council offices

In a report to councillors, they insisted the considerable harm to an area of natural beauty and ancient woodland, together with the unsustainable location, outweighed other considerations.

“The development represents a visual intrusion of caravans, vehicles and other external domestic paraphernalia in a rural, countryside setting which considerably harms the character and appearance of the High Weald AONB,” they wrote.

The site in question lies to the southern side of Netherfield Hill – about 2.5km from the centre of Battle and a similar distance from Netherfield.

Retrospective planning permission

It was purchased by the applicant in February 2020. A stable block building was then demolished and replaced with the unauthorised development at the centre of the debate.

Retrospective planning application was then submitted on the April 9th, 2020. 

Permission is sought for the retention of two mobile homes, two touring caravans, a parking area for two cars, and the widening of the vehicular access from single vehicle width to around 6m.

This included the removal of some roadside vegetation, a shingle track, and the installation of a sewage treatment plant, for residential use by gypsy and traveller families. 

The development is concentrated on the west side of the site. To the east of the track, an orchard is proposed to be planted. 

Objections from residents

There have been 138 objections received, including a letter from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and a letter from a solicitor on behalf of 125 residents from 70 households. 

In written evidence, Battle Town council stated: “Council note the flagrant disregard for the planning process and lack of accurate and complete documentation. It is highlighted that this is outside the development boundary in an AONB and is strongly opposed.”

The report from planning officials outlined that two of the adults and two of the children living on the site have significant medical conditions.

It also acknowledged that the children were a primary consideration and that it would be best for them to remain on the site.

“An ordered and settled site would afford them the best opportunity of a stable, secure and happy family life, opportunities for education, ready access to health and other services (albeit the site is not considered to be sustainably located) and opportunities for play and personal development,” it stated.

Alternative sites in Bexhill

However, it concluded that there was no reason why very similar benefits for the children occupying the application site could not be achieved on another settled site, such as in Bexhill.

“The five pitches at land east of Watermill Lane, Bexhill, allocated within the DaSA (local plan) are not occupied and therefore sharing with other families would not currently be an issue,” it stated. “It is not considered that these allocated pitches have been adequately considered.”

Planners also outlined that legal action may be taken to cease the residential use of the land, and remove the mobile caravans, touring caravans, and cars.

Possible enforcement action

“If planning permission is refused, enforcement action is taken and any subsequent appeals are dismissed/upheld, it is likely that the families would have to leave the site,” stated the report.

The action could also include removing any related operational development, including foul drainage connections, and to return the land to its former condition.

“For the occupiers of the site to find a suitable alternative site to suit the family’s needs, which may involve selling the current site, a compliance period of 12 months is recommended,” it added.

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