North Bedfordshire Parish Councils and Resident Associations called a meeting last Saturday chaired by Local MP Alistair Burt. They feel that the Borough Council has been dragging its feet in providing appropriate sites for the Gypsy and Traveller community. Over 70 people attended the meeting including representatives of 26 local Rural Parish Councils, together with a number of Borough Councillors whose wards are affected by this issue.
While the recent U-turn on Meadow Lane is welcomed with the assurances by the Mayor that it will be considered for planning on 26 March, concern is that this may not succeed and that the Borough should also be progressing alternative sites now.
The recent spate of sites, and planning applications for more sites in our open countryside, does not help or support either the Traveller or the Settled Communities as they are in areas with inadequate facilities, no immediate access to shops, doctors, schools or work.
Under planning legislation there is a hierarchy of preferred sites for Travellers recognising that Urban sites, or those on the edge of Urban areas are the most appropriate, providing facilities and access to work. Open rural locations near to small villages should be the last resort. Recent planning appeals have granted Temporary sites in rural areas, specifically because the Borough Council has failed on policy to provide alternative sites. It is imperative for the Borough to develop appropriate policy to identify sites without further delay and implement that policy with all speed, 2014 is too late.
Government policy could be described currently as a planning vacuum. The old planning policies have not yet been revoked, new regulations under the Localism Act not yet implemented, and no guidance on the forthcoming National Planning Policy Framework. Planners, the Borough Council, Parish Councils and local residents alike are all frustrated by not having definitive guidance at this time.
A follow up meeting will be held by the Parish Councils, Resident Associations and our MP in a few weeks time to discuss progress on the issues raised.
Alistair Burt, MP for NE Bedfordshire said; "I was very pleased to take part in today's meeting. North Bedfordshire seems to have highlighted the very reasons for the need to re-balance the law, with a number of inappropriate sites and retrospective planning applications which are of little use to Travellers or residents alike. The uncertainty in the area has taken a real toll, as many made clear.
I will be meeting Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles MP to take to him points raised at the meeting and to discuss how quickly the changes the government has introduced can take effect. I fully support north Bedfordshire councillor's efforts to urge Bedford Borough Council to find alternative and better new sites, currently heavily over-represented in the rural Bedford area."
A spokesman for the North Bedfordshire Residents Association said; "There is a growing sense of frustration amongst the community of North Bedfordshire at the lack of adequate provision for Gypsy and Traveller sites in the Borough, resulting in an increased number of illegal encampments and temporary permissions being given for unsuitable sites. We will be mounting a vigorous campaign to ensure that our voice is heard and that pressure is applied on the Borough to find adequate and suitable sites for Gypsies and Travellers in accordance with the Borough's obligations. We welcome the progress that is being made on the Meadow Lane site; however we are very concerned that the Borough's identification of alternative sites is progressing too slowly."
It is interesting to see the point highlighted by Joseph Jones, a spokesman for the National Gypsy Council, quoted in the BoS article on 8 Jan 2012, "Bedford Borough Council hasn't done enough to provide locations for the (G&T) community and while report after report is done on Meadow Lane."