Kettering Council set to compulsory purchase Desborough land for new traveller site

The local authority says it is taking the action as a last resort after own Fred Smith has refused to sell his land

Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 2:59 pm
The seven acre site is owned by Fred Smith.

Kettering Council is planning to compulsory purchase a field in Desborough to create a new Traveller site.

The authority’s executive will tonight (September 15) decide whether to go ahead with the move to force owner Fred Smith to sell the field off Stoke Albany Road, which was granted planning permission for a ten-pitch traveller site more than ten years ago.

The council says the compulsory order, which will have to be agreed by the Secretary of State for Local Government, is being made because it has not been able to agree a sale price with Mr Smith and the authority needs to have more authorised Traveller pitches because the lack of them is impairing its ability to tackle the issue of unauthorised encampments.

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In the past 12 months there have been several unauthorised Traveller sites across the borough set up with the sites at Loddington and Desborough now subject to planning appeals.

The report says: “Officers have sought to discuss voluntary acquisition of the site from the current site owner. However, the owner has now confirmed, as of 4th August 2020, that they will not enter negotiations to sell the site to the council. As a result, compulsory purchase of the site is considered reasonable and proportionate to ensure that development of the site for its consented purpose proceeds, given the importance of that use for the council’s wider planning policy purposes.”

The report says the council thinks it has a compelling case in the public interest for the compulsory purchase. The cost of compensation for the land will be decided if the compulsory order goes through and the cost of setting it up as a Traveller site with access and facilities could cost as much as £1m.

The council has set aside this funding, with the compulsory purchase order likely to be completed by the new Northants unitary authority as Kettering Council only has seven months left before it is disbanded.

The authority says it currently has 76 authorised traveller pitches across the borough, with a further 18 with planning permission.

The report says: “There are potentially 18 pitches in the borough from three applications which have been consented but have not yet been completed. The subject site comprises 10 consented pitches and makes up the largest part of this number. The council has a duty to allocate sufficient land for Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs, and whilst this duty does not extend to its delivery, the lack of progress in further developing this site is impairing the council’s duty as the local planning authority, and its ability to enforce unauthorised traveller developments.”

Another report about the Gypsy and Traveller provision that will also be discussed by the executive tonight spells out the current situation in the Kettering borough.

Local councils have a duty as the planning authority to assess the need for Traveller provision in their area and to have a five-year supply. Not having a five-year supply can lead to the authority being unable to defend planning appeals to set up sites where planning permission has not been granted.

Since 2017 Kettering Council has not been able to rely on its assessments and so commissioned a new assessment which was completed in March 2019.

This has identified that some people using the authorised sites may not be from the Gypsy or Traveller community.

The authority is also only at the early stages of its Gypsy and Traveller Site Accommodation Policy which will form part of the development plan for the local area. The authority is now unlikely to finish this before it is abolished and instead the report says a North Northants wide policy will be adopted by the new unitary council in 2022.

Independent councillor Jim Hakewill says the authority has been slow in getting a Traveller policy in place which has led to issues for both the local travelling and settled communities.

He said: “I feel that we have let both the Traveller and settled communities down as a council by not grasping the nettle and having a five-year supply in the same way we have with housing. That leaves the travelling community to organise their own sites which may not well be suitable within planning terms, rather than going to the council and identifying where they could legally set up.

“This leads to the conclusion that not having a proper policy for the next two to three years is not the best way for the council to handle this.”