Travellers' site fear for 'gateway to Sidmouth'

THE possibility that land at the Bowd on the gateway to Sidmouth could become a travellers pitch has not been ruled out by East Devon District Council.

THE possibility that land at the Bowd on "the gateway to Sidmouth" could become a travellers pitch has not been ruled out by East Devon District Council.

The Government has ordered EDDC to find an additional nine pitches by 2011 and the Herald understands a piece of land off the A3052, on which there are caravans already, is one of several in the region to be mentioned as a possible site.

EDDC said that while the land-owner is an authorised gypsy occupant, the land is not a registered gypsy site and it would not comment over the speculation.

A spokesperson said: "Should any additional gypsy or traveller occupation of this site be proposed, it may require planning consent."

Traveller site provision did appear on an agenda as a matter to be discussed in private by EDDC's executive board on Wednesday, but its appearance was explained as a "clerical error" and the item was not discussed according to the council.

The prospect of potential sites being identified and discussed in private has irked some of Sidmouth's district councillors.

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Cllr Graham Troman, said: "Are we being consulted properly? I fear not. I'm on the council, the development control committee and I'm a Sidmouth businessman and resident. I want to know where these sites are going to be and I want to be consulted- if it is in Sidmouth I want to know where it is- I want to be consulted as an individual.

"I've heard the rumours over the Bowd land. Nothing official has come to me yet."

"My concern, if that is one site to be considered, it is the gateway and entrance to Sidmouth and very important. If the site is not properly run, what will people think? What will their first impressions be? I think the people of Sidmouth wouldn't like it there.

"We need to make arrangements for travellers- but residents should be involved in the process of considering where sites go and have their concerns and fears addressed.

Cllr Stuart Hughes is an executive board member and said: "I can't comment on any confidential items on the agenda. We understand sites have to be found, the Government has told us this. At the same time we have to ensure we are open and honest about where they are being proposed. We must learn from what happened in Exeter where sites were identified and there was uproar because the public was left out of the process."

The EDDC spokesperson said the "wider question" of gypsy and traveller site provision has been the subject of an ongoing consultation exercise.

She said options identified as a result of recent public consultation and other studies will be presented to a meeting of the council's Development Control Committee "shortly".

Recommendations will then go to a meeting of the EDDC executive board. Any proposed sites will be the subject of further public consultation before identifying location(s) that would accommodate EDDC's quota of pitches.

Both EDDC and Devon County Council have confirmed activities currently taking place on the privately owned land, which has involved the felling of trees, are perfectly legal. The owner of the land was unavailable to comment on the speculation.