Thetford gipsy site to open this summer

PUBLISHED: 10:40 31 March 2008 | UPDATED: 21:02 07 July 2010

A controversial new travellers' camp in Norfolk is on course to open in the summer after a district council signed a land deal without consulting local members.

A controversial new travellers' camp in Norfolk is on course to open in the summer after a district council signed a land deal without consulting local members.

Proposals for a short-stay gipsy and traveller site in Thetford sparked anger last year after Breckland Council submitted a planning application before the completion of a public consultation exercise.

But the hotly contested scheme received the final go-ahead this week after the lease of land between the Abbey Estate and the A11 was completed without giving district councillors an opportunity to review the decision.

The 15-year tenancy agreement of the Crown Estate-owned area, which will cost the council £500 a year, was signed by commercial and economic executive member Paul Claussen on last Tuesday, but had scrapped the usual five-day scrutiny period as a matter of “urgency”.

It means that the work to clear and fence off the land to create hard standings for caravans, skips, and portable toilets is set to start at the end of next month and be ready for use from July.

Officials at Breckland Council said that the delegated decision had bypassed the standard scrutiny process to avoid further delays, increased costs, and the loss of a contractor to create the new travellers' site.

The camp, near the A11 BP garage at Abbey Heath, was given planning approval by Breckland Councillors just over a year ago to house up to six caravans for a maximum of 28 days for about eight weeks of the year.

The go-ahead came despite a petition signed by 579 residents of the Abbey Estate who fear that the site would reignite crime and antisocial problems and opposition from Thetford Town Council over its proximity to the A11 and the Anglian Water sewage treatment plant.

Breckland Council received £66,660 from the government to fund the scheme. Anita Brennan, strategic housing manager, said the hurried delegated decision would avoid a “substantial delay” in creating the short stay stopping site and the risks of escalating development costs and the loss of grant funding. In a report to councillors, she added that the gypsy and traveller camp would promote “community cohesion” and would reduce the number of illegal incursions and fly-tipping cases on land in Thetford.

But Pauline Quadling, town and district councillor for the Abbey ward, said neither local residents nor travellers wanted the site. “Who in their right mind would want to stay near a sewage station and a busy main road?” she said.

A Breckland Council spokesman added that the delegated decision was fully in line with the authority's constitution and had been made after negotiations with the Crown Estate had taken longer than originally anticipated.

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