£9m plan for takeover of controversial travellers' sites near Leighton Buzzard aborted as council allows increase in authorised caravans
Rise from 46 to 77 permitted caravans agreed, after numbers had reached about 150 at one point
More caravans will be allowed at two controversial travellers' sites near Leighton Buzzard, avoiding the need to spend £9m to return them to local authority ownership.
A fall back position has been approved by Central Bedfordshire Council over The Stables and Greenacres in Billington.
CBC has adopted relevant powers under planning, licensing, environmental health, community safety and housing since 2017 to improve conditions on these sites.
Plans to increase the authorised number of caravans on the two sites from 46 to 77 were approved by CBC's development management committee on Wednesday (Oct 20).
The number of plots on Greenacres goes up by two from 16 to 18, according to a report to councillors.
"There would be no increase in the number of plots on The Stables," said the report.
CBC submitted a regulation three application, as it owns two strips of land to the north and east of the sites.
The application also includes surface water drainage improvements, a service road, landscaping and fencing, as well as replacement cesspits to all the plots except plot one at The Stables.
"Caravan numbers on the application site have increased over time," added the report. "Enforcement notices were served in December 2018 and subsequently appealed.
"Tentative dates for those appeals to be heard have been agreed in January and February 2022."
Principal planning officer Debbie Quinn told the committee other aspects of the development would include resurfacing the main access road, measures to protect the gas pipe line, and installing individual water and electricity metres.
"A further caravan count was made at the site in the last week," she explained. "There were 58 static caravans 32 tourers and two homes."
Billington Parish Council objected and urged CBC to reconsider its decision not to continue with compulsory purchase of the sites because of the £9m cost.
"We feel that the whole community, including the gipsies and travellers, would be better served if this is a single council-run site," it said.
"It would be cleaner, safer and properly managed. In particular, the sites in Little Billington have been the source of very serious criminal activities, including murder and modern slavery.
"It means that strong action is required to enable CBC, with Bedfordshire Police, to regain control of these sites.
"This proposal clearly indicates that CBC intends to give into the demands of the gipsy and traveller community, at the expense of settled residents."
Giles Brockbank, from agent Ridge and Partners LLP, referred to the benefits of the proposals, saying CBC has taken a proactive and collaborative approach to reduce the number of caravans.
"It's a long established site and we're trying to clarify the intensification of that use, rather than it encroaching any further than it does at present," he explained.
"There's a lack of alternative available sites for occupiers of this community. Having these pitches is going to be of benefit generally.
"There will be improvements to surface water and drainage, The cesspits will be regularised and their size increased to cope with the volume of waste on site."
The application was approved with ten votes in favour, none against and three abstentions.
This is subject to a Section 106 agreement, the receipt of a positive consultation response from National Grid, and any consideration that may be required by the Secretary of State for levelling up, housing and communities.