Thursday, 26 September 2013

Council Meeting Agrees Budget To Give Travellers' Site A New Lease Of Life

Plans to purchase an existing and run down Travellers’ site in Fen Road Chesterton have taken a step forward today (Thursday 26 September) as councillors approved a budget for the project.

At a meeting of Full Council at South Cambridgeshire District Council, cross party backing was given to plans that would see an under utilised privately owned site which is in poor condition on Grassy Corner purchased and brought back into full use.

The Council wants to build nine high-quality pitches for rent at affordable rates and has already secured £500,000 of Government funding only available for investment in Travellers’ pitches following a joint bid with Cambridge City Council.

The decision today will see the District Council submit a business case to the Homes and Communities Agency to bid for further national grants of around £300,000 so any outlay by the District Council could be made on a business case basis with rents collected from tenants at the site repaying the initial investment.

At the meeting councillors also agreed to make a budget available to purchase two other existing Travellers’ sites that are managed by the District Council on behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council.

The County Council owned sites at Whaddon and Blackwell – a site off the A14 near Milton – could also be purchased on a business case basis at no overall cost to the local council taxpayer.

National funding has already been secured from the Homes and Communities Agency to upgrade facilities and add two extra pitches at Whaddon.

Without investment in the sites at Fen Road and Whaddon to upgrade facilities, both sites could become unusable in the future and additional pitches elsewhere in the district would be needed to meet the Council’s legal duties.

Once further national funding is secured, and an agreement to purchase can be reached, planning applications will be needed for upgraded facilities and pitches at the sites.

At the Council meeting housing portfolio holder, Cllr Mark Howell, said that continuing to work with local communities to make sure plans are right for people nearby and residents who could live there in the future.

He said he was committed to involving everyone in the planning consultation for Fen Road, which would include residents and councillors in nearby wards in Cambridge City.

Investment in the sites will help the Council continue to meet its legal duty to provide sufficient Gypsy and Traveller pitches for families living in the district and it is hoped it will also reduce the number of reports of illegal encampments.

Cambridge City Council would be given the option to use one of the pitches at the Fen Road site as agreed as part of the joint bid for national grant funding.

Cllr Mark Howell, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “We have already been speaking to the local community about these plans with some very positive feedback from residents from both the travelling and settled communities. It is important to remember this is an early stage and we are very committed to continuing to work with everyone nearby to make sure the plans are right. In due course a planning application will be needed for Fen road and we will make sure we give people as much chance as possible to have their say on the proposed improvements.

“We have a legal duty to provide pitches to meet the needs of growing families currently living in the district and investment in Grassy Corner would transform it for the benefit of everyone living nearby and in the long run could be at no cost to the local council taxpayer. Without investment replacement pitches would be needed elsewhere in the district.

Cllr Hazel Smith, South Cambridgeshire District Council local member for Milton, said: “When I visited Fen Road to talk to people living there about this plan most people have been okay with the idea. A number of local Traveller families told me they are looking for pitches to rent, and I think that these proposed affordable rental pitches could help improve the area for everyone. It will be important to give all the local communities a good opportunity to comment on the plans if we get to a planning stage and I look forward to ensuring it delivers the greatest possible benefits.”