Caravan numbers at controversial travellers' sites near Leighton Buzzard have been significantly reduced as regulation attempts continue
Council hopes to avoid the need for £9million contingency plan to acquire Greenacres and The Stables through a compulsory purchase order
The number of caravans on two controversial travellers' sites near Leighton Buzzard has been reduced from in excess of 150 to 81, Central Beds Council has revealed as it continues efforts to satisfactorily regulate and licence them.
Current permissions allow 46 caravans across Greenacres and The Stables sites in Billington, and the council say it is making progress with its move to improve standards through a new planning application. It wants to avoid the need to proceed with its £9million contingency plan to acquire both sites through a compulsory purchase order (CPO) where it would look to establish a council-owned and managed gypsy and traveller site.
Relevant powers under planning, licensing, environmental health, community safety and housing have been deployed by the council since 2017 to bring the sites up to standard, according to a report to the council's Executive on Tuesday (August 3).
"Key issues previously identified there include anti-social behaviour, unsafe infrastructure for sewage, clean water, and electricity, breaches of planning permissions and crime, such as reports of modern slavery," said the report.
Regarding the reduction in caravans achieved so far, the report added: "After CBC’s continued dialogue with site residents about planning, licensing and enforcement matters, there were 81 caravans at the end of May.
"Around 60 non-gipsy and traveller site residents eligible for housing support have been rehoused since 2017, although there are still non-travellers living on the sites. And there's been a significant increase in plot owners registering their land with the Land Registry.
"A project board was set up four years ago to oversee the development of the scheme and work has continued to identify the most robust long-term option," added the report.
"In the event that a new planning application doesn't bring the site up to the required standards, officers will bring a recommendation to Executive to acquire Greenacres and The Stables as a single site using a CPO if necessary.
"This would need agreement of the estimated costs of £9m to build a new council-owned and managed site accounted for in CBC’s medium-term financial plan.
"A council planning application was submitted in May 2020 for 77 caravans and for two site buildings to remain, which is due to be determined during 2021."
A planning inspectorate hearing date of January 2022 is set for site residents or owners opting to appeal enforcement notices.
"If the appellants win, the appeals the council would need to continue to work with plot owners and residents to ensure compliance with any conditions the planning inspector imposes," explained the report.
Head of community safety Jeanette Kite told the Executive: "In 2017, the council committed itself to tackling a range of historic and ongoing issues at Greenacres and The Stables travellers' sites in Billington.
"The sites have changed considerably since the original planning permissions were granted," she said.
"Executive approved to take robust action to ensure they were compliant with planning and licensing regulations, to be safe, well maintained and managed, as well as accessible to the authorities.
"All of the options considered tackle the issues on these sites and come with a significant financial cost.
"But on balance a new planning application submitted on behalf of the council is considered to be the most effective way to achieve the aims set out in 2017.
"A successful planning application would reflect the occupancy changes, and the current and future accommodation needs of residents there.
"New planning permissions would require each plot needing a site licence, which requires the holder to regulate the standard being maintained.
"This is the most viable long-term option and would address the concerns raised about safety, utilities and sanitation."
The Executive unanimously agreed the project would move into a procure and delivery phase for infrastructure improvements set out in the plans, subject to CBC's application being approved.