Travellers refused planning permission – and told more suitable sites exist in Bexhill

Enforcement action will be taken against two traveller families who set up home near Battle without consent.

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

But their request for retrospective permission was unanimously rejected by Rother District Council’s planning committee, who said more suitable sites existed in Bexhill.

Councillor John Barnes branded pointed out it was a 14th Century landscape and damage was already being done to the woodland and ecology.

“This is a dangerous application because the applicants moved onto the site, quite deliberately, before planning permission was sought,” he said.

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

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.

A retrospective planning application was then submitted in April 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 also 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. 

However, the application resulted in 138 objections, including letters from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and a solicitor on behalf of 125 residents from 70 households. 

A report from planning officials said the caravans and other domestic paraphernalia considerably harmed the landscape and beauty of the area of outstanding natural beauty.

“The caravans appear incongruous and foreign in this countryside setting and have changed the character of the site from rural to residential,” it stated.

Bernard Brown, a spokesman for RAUDIN (Residents Against Unlawful Development in Netherfield) told the committee it was a “deliberate, intentional, and unauthorised” development.

“They moved in before they put in the application, knowing this site didn’t have planning permission – and that planning permission for a single dwelling had previously been refused,” he said.

Councillor Kathryn Field, who represents North Battle, Netherfield and Whatlington, told the committee there were other sites available for travellers in the area.

“There are sufficient pitches available for gypsies and travellers in the district and I am very glad about that as people need somewhere to go to but this particular space isn’t on that list,” she said.

Councillor Richard Thomas agreed.

“There are five sites available in Bexhill, none of which are occupied, so there’s no reason whatsoever why these people should not be well accommodated within Bexhill.”

However, he stressed that the families involved were vulnerable. 

“I’d very much like the committee to make clear that we want this situation to be handled in a very sensitive and understanding way,” he said.

Councillor Sam Coleman said it was important to consider the view of the applicants and asked for clarification that sites in Bexhill were available and that council staff could assist.

“I really feel concern for these families and wouldn’t like to see us force anyone into a position of jeopardy, especially in these times.”

The committee agreed to the recommendation by officials that legal action may be taken to cease the residential use of the land, and remove the mobile caravans, touring caravans, and cars.

“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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