Villagers near Harborough are furious after council says it will not contest travellers' legal battle

Oakley Park, MiddletonOakley Park, Middleton
Oakley Park, Middleton
The council's decision means it is likely that the unauthorised site will now be approved

Appeals by traveller families who had bought land and set up a community near Harborough will not be contested by council barristers, it has been revealed.

Travellers had expanded their three-pitch Oakley Park site near Middleton to house 10 vans without planning permission – but applied retrospectively for consent to enlarge the site.

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Their application, which was in two parts, was refused by North Northants Council.

The Oakley Park siteThe Oakley Park site
The Oakley Park site

The travellers appealed the decision to the government planning inspectorate and NNC had been expected to put up a legal fight at the appeal hearing.

A neighbouring family was also appealing a council enforcement notice ordering them to stop work on their site on Peasdale Hill Field.

Villagers had been hopeful the appeals would be thrown out. But now they have been left disappointed because NNC say they will now not contest them, meaning the planning inspectorate is likely to give the travellers permission for their extension.

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Middleton Residents Action Group set up to fight this application – and other similar sites nearby – now say they are ‘devastated’ at the outcome.

Councillors had unanimously rejected both applications in April 2021, with both applications going to appeal in July 2022 – North Northants Council (NNC) intending to defend both appeals.

A spokesman for Middleton Residents’ Action Group, RAG, said: “There are many valid planning reasons why these applications should be rejected.

“These have been identified and communicated by RAG to NNC on many occasions and we fully expected NNC to conduct a robust defence based on these.

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”In July, the hearings were adjourned by the Planning Inspector and rescheduled for April 23, 2023, but they will now be uncontested. The group said that they had growing concerns over NNC’s ‘competency, willingness, and motivation’ to ‘robustly’ prepare a comprehensive case against the retrospective appeals.

RAG’s spokesman said: “In RAG’s view, this decision is a gross and blatant dereliction of NNC’s duty and responsibility to the community.

"The council’s historic failure to adequately plan for Gypsy and Traveller sites, has led them to disregard proper planning considerations and ‘accept’ convenient, opportunistic developments.

"Their acceptance of an intensive three-fold, inappropriate and unsustainable expansion of Oakley Park is a clear example of their failings. If this development were six bungalows, the council would most certainly be fighting this appeal.”

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RAG now intends to continue to contest the unapproved expansion of Oakley Park.

The spokesman said: “It is damning of NNC that residents are now left to continue the fight on their own and without NNC backing, it is highly likely that permission will be granted on a permanent basis for both Oakley Park applications.

“A growing gypsy and traveller community has a genuine need for additional pitches, has a right to develop suitable sites and is being failed by this council.”

Local authorities like NNC (previously the borough councils) have a statutory duty to ensure a five-year land supply plan and provide Gypsy and Traveller sites for their future needs.

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Suitable sites and land should be identified and provided for residential caravan pitches. But failure to identify sites has seen a rise in a number of unauthorised developments in countryside locations.

Cllr David Sims (Cons, Corby Rural) said: “I’m very disappointed. The fact is we don’t have five-year land supply. I have to say this is very close to my heart as a member of the planning committee I went against officer recommendation for approval of Oakley Park in which was citied we didn’t have five-year land supply.

"However, I proposed we reject the application stating we have a fighting chance to win any possible appeal I then received a seconder and unanimous vote to reject the planning proposal for Oakley Park.

“It is extremely unfair and disappointing when arguably this whole situation could have been avoided if the previous authorities and NNC had adequately provide five-year land supply for Gypsy and Traveller sites. It’s been kicking the can down the road.”

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RAG say there are a total of 30 approved and unapproved gypsy and traveller sites across North Northants and that this number has grown significantly over the past three years. Four unapproved sites are currently going through retrospective planning appeals. As site identification and development is a long process, it is understood that the council has yet to identify suitable sites, meaning that further unauthorised developments are extremely likely.

RAG has vowed to fight the third unapproved gypsy and traveller development at Peasdale Hill, Middleton.

A RAG spokesman said “We have asked NNC to urgently explain its position and preparations for this appeal.

"We simply cannot accept another unjustifiable capitulation, purely for the convenience of the council. Furthermore, it increases our resolve to hold the council, its officers and elected councillors to full account to mount a comprehensive and robust defence against Peasdale Hill.”

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Cllr Sims added: “I’ll still fight for planning conditions – but with this council anything can happen.”

The last published information, included in the 2019 North Northamptonshire Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA), confirmed 28 sites and five travelling showpeople yards. It is recognised that there has been an increase since with the exact numbers to be clarified by the GTAA Update which will be available in March 2023.

Cllr David Brackenbury (Cons, Thrapston) NNC’s executive member for growth and regeneration: said “There is currently a planning appeal underway for this case. Under the circumstances, it would not be appropriate to make further comment, as the council would not wish to prejudice this process for the parties involved.”