Battle resumes on bid to block travellers’ site

Central Beds Council removing hardstanding from the disputed traveller's site on Mile Tree Road, Leighton Buzzard, with Cllr Mark Versaillon in attendance. ENGPNL00120120427100052

Central Beds Council removing hardstanding from the disputed traveller's site on Mile Tree Road, Leighton Buzzard, with Cllr Mark Versaillon in attendance. ENGPNL00120120427100052

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A four-and-a-half year battle to stop travellers living on a green belt site on the outskirts of Leighton Buzzard will go to yet another public inquiry next month.

Central Beds Council has fought tooth and nail to block the development, which it believes will set a dangerous precedent.

Back in October 2011, travellers started work on land at Mile Tree Road, on the edge of Heath and Reach, and within a week an access road and fencing dividing the land into pitches for caravans and mobile homes had appeared.

But Central Beds Council acted swiftly and tore up the unauthorised development and when the owner of the land, a traveller called Michael Kieley, applied for retrospective planning permission for six pitches and hardstandings it was rejected.

The council spent £10,000 on legal costs, £100,000 on security to prevent occupation of the land, plus a further £10,000 re-instating the site.

But Mr Kieley then appealed the council’s decision to reject permission.

Following a lengthy public inquiry in three stages between December 2012 and May 2013, the matter was taken out of the hands of a planning inspector and passed to the Secretary of State (Communities and Local Government) because the application was deemed significant green belt development.

In September 2013, when the Secretary of State sided with Mr Kieley and gave him a temporary permission, he cited the lack of any CBC five-year gipsy and traveller plan for the district.

That prompted a High Court bid by the council to overturn that ruling.

In March 2014, the Secretary of State’s decision was quashed because it was “procedurally flawed and had over relied on the lack of a CBC gipsy and traveller plan. The Government was ordered to pay CBC costs.

Now the matter has reverted to a new public inquiry for four days under the remit of a local inspector, starting from 10am on April 14 at the council’s Chicksands offices.

A spokesman for Central Beds Council said: “The public inquiry is taking place after the High Court quashed the Secretary of State’s previous decision on the appeal which was deemed to be procedurally flawed.

“The effect of this is to require the Secretary of State to reconsider the appeal which he will do at the inquiry.

“The council’s costs were met and the land has remained unoccupied while the process has been ongoing as there is an injunction on the site.”

The forthcoming inquiry was debated at Heath and Reach Parish Council’s planning meeting last Tuesday.