Appeal has prevented council taking further action to remove unauthorised travellers in Tilsworth

The Kingswood Nursery at Tilsworth... Photo: Google
The Kingswood Nursery at Tilsworth... Photo: Google

Appeals have been lodged over plans to evict unauthorised caravans from a travellers’ site in LBO land, with a date still to be set for the hearing.

Enforcement notices were served by Central Bedfordshire Council on land at Kingswood Nursery in Tilsworth in September.

The appeals are also linked to the siting of a portable building, a change of use from paddock land and expanding an area of hardstanding.

A start date is still to be confirmed by the Planning Inspectorate, according to a report to the council’s sustainable communities overview and scrutiny committee.

But more caravans have moved on to the site in the meantime, says the report.

Letters were issued by the council’s planning enforcement in November requiring the occupiers to vacate the site within seven days.

A number of caravans have been removed. Those remaining which are unauthorised are not subject to the enforcement notices.

The council says a High Court injunction is being sought to require their removal.

An application for caravans to be put on the land for residential purposes, as one gipsy pitch, was first submitted in April 2012. The plans were refused by the council, but went to appeal.

This was granted in August 2015 for “the use of land as a gipsy site comprising one pitch with two caravans”.

The committee was asked at its last meeting to explain what action is being taken by enforcement officers at selected sites in the county.

“Pursuing action against unauthorised developments takes considerable time and officer resource, and is often significantly prolonged when an appeal is lodged, as shown by the Kingswood Nursery situation,” adds the report.

“Although the appeals against the four enforcement notices were received on October 11, a start date for any hearing has yet to be received from the Planning Inspectorate.

“Given recent experience, that hearing is not likely to be held until Spring 2019 at the earliest.

“The lodging of a planning appeal effectively ‘stops the legal clock’ and the council would not be seen as reasonable in pursuing any action, pending the outcome of the decision of the planning inspector.”

The local authority says there can be complex issues to consider, including human rights issues, the health and education of any children, and the health of other residents.

“This significantly adds to the time taken for evidence gathering and provision of legal advice, as information has to be entirely accurate and up-to-date,” explains the report.

“For ethnicity and cultural reasons these issues are most likely to arise in the case of unauthorised gipsy and traveller developments.”

Officer time is also taken up by responding to complaints about non-planning issues, which fall outside the scope of planning legislation.

These include:

> encroachment on to private property, which is a private matter to be dealt with by the property owner;

> excessive noise and smells, which are matters dealt with by other legislation, notably CBC public protection;

> burning of waste and fly tipping, which are also matters dealt with by other legislation, notably CBC public protection and the Environment Agency;

> alleged thefts, intimidations and anti-social behaviour, which are breaches of criminal law dealt with by the police;

> rubbish thrown on local roads, which is a breach of criminal law also dealt with by the police;

> site occupants’ horses escaping from a field, which could potentially cause a breach of criminal law and would be dealt with by the police;

> quad bike racing, another potential breach of criminal law which would be dealt with by the police;

> site licensing, which is dealt with by the council’s licensing team;

> and children not attending school which is dealt with by the council’s education team.

The council says it is committed to improving its planning enforcement service to deal with unauthorised development.

Surface drainage issues, road flooding and the installation of a septic tank are among the issues which the local authority has faced, since the original application was approved on appeal.

Partially retrospective planning applications have infuriated local residents in the past over the expansion of the Kingswood Nursery site in Dunstable Road.

Plans for five static and five touring caravans on the site were subsequently lowered to four of each type, but were still refused by Central Bedfordshire planners in July.

Agent for one of the applications to increase the number of caravans on the site, Joseph Jones said at the time: “It would have very limited impact upon Tilsworth, as it’s on the very edge of the village.

“It hasn’t been green belt for many years. There was an appeal decision, a few years ago, that said that former nurseries are not the same as a piece of virgin land.”

Councillors will be asked to note the report about planning enforcement and unauthorised development at their meeting on Thursday. (Jan 24th).