Travellers' land rent row

PUBLISHED: 06:47 12 March 2009 | UPDATED: 10:43 07 July 2010

A SENIOR council official has dismissed claims that more than £100,000 of taxpayers' money would be wasted by renting land for a travellers' site in Fakenham.

A SENIOR council official has dismissed claims that more than £100,000 of taxpayers' money would be wasted by renting land for a travellers' site in Fakenham.

North Norfolk District Council identified farmland south of the A148 near the Clipbush Lane roundabout in 2006 to be used as an authorised stopping place for travellers.

A planning application was made following a public consultation and funds were approved by central government to lease the site from the landowner at an annual rate of £15,000 for the first 10 years.

At a Fakenham Town Council meeting last week, town resident Roy Gibson questioned why so much public money was being spent on agricultural land which he believed was only worth £20,000.

He asked why the district council could not use compulsory purchase powers to buy the site outright and save more than £100,000 from the public purse.

Deputy mayor Mike Coates agreed, saying: “The country cannot afford to throw away £150,000 - this is not government money, it is our money.”

But North Norfolk's strategic director for community Steve Blatch said, with a valid planning permission in place, the site had been independently valued as premium development land and could no longer be viewed as farmland.

He said although compulsory purchase powers were available, the council's intention to work in co-operation with landowners had always been the basis of the consultation and the funding bid.

“The suggestion is that this is agricultural land therefore it has an agricultural value, but it is not being used for an agricultural purpose,” he said. “You don't buy development land at an agricultural price. The value of the land increases once an alternative use has been approved.

“We currently do not have the authority to move travellers from a pitch unless there is a designated site to move them to.

“The council has powers of compulsory purchase to make such provision but it always stated that it wanted to secure land through agreement with a landowner if possible, and that is what we have done.”

Mr Blatch said the site was first considered when its owner approached the council after experiencing trouble accessing his land due to the arrival of travellers.

“He asked whether it presented an opportunity to manage the travellers in a more structured way and we saw the benefit of that,” he said.

Council officers are currently assessing tenders before work on the site can begin, with a contract due to be awarded by the end of March.

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