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Traveller sites needed in North Devon & Torridge

Monday, 11 December 2023 08:21

By local democracy reporter, Alison Stephenson

Travellers pitched up at Victoria Park, Bideford in the summer. (Image: Google Street Maps)

Councils must provide somewhere for them

New attempts are to be made to find traveller sites in North Devon and Torridge.

Councillors have been warned that the next blueprint for development will fail when it goes before a planning inspector, unless it includes such land.

The two councils, which share a local development plan, have to provide two transit or short-stay sites for travellers, but nothing has come to fruition in the last eight years.

The issue came to a head in the summer when travellers pitched in Bideford’s Victoria Park, leading to tension in the community and a furore on social media.

Torridge District Council issued an eviction notice and despite officers claiming damage to the park had been overexaggerated, they said a dedicated travellers’ site in the area would have made it easier to move them.

At a North Devon and Torridge joint planning policy meeting, councillors were told the government’s aim is to “ensure fair and equal treatment for travellers, in a way that facilitates the traditional and nomadic way of life of travellers, while respecting the interests of the settled community.”

Torridge District Council’s deputy leader Cllr Claire Hodson (Ind, Westward Ho!) said travellers had the same rights as everyone else and children needed  the opportunity to go to school and families to join in with communities.

“It is important and we should be looking at this now before we start looking at the new local plan,” she said. “Unauthorised encampments are costly to us because we have no sites to refer them to. Our inaction is causing costs.”

Cllr Neil Denton (Ind, North Devon, Fremington) said despite calls from both councils to Devon County Council to designate an area of its land for a travellers’ site beside the A39 used “unofficially by travellers” they had said it was not available for that purpose.

“It’s not managed at all at the moment but it could be as a site for the travelling community,” he said.

A call for land was made in 2017, with 2,000 individuals and organisations invited to submit potentially suitable sites, but not enough came forward and no further assessment work has taken place.

The North Devon and Torridge local plan requires both permanent pitches for the gypsy and travelling community – for providing residents with permanent homes  – and transit sites where the lengths of stay are usually set at between 28 days and three months.

Planning officers said the new local plan would not be “found sound” unless a new assessment had been carried out and sites allocated in appropriate locations.

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