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5 September 2013, 06:00
District Council bosses have begun talking to local people about purchasing an existing and run-down travellers site on Fen Road in Chesterton.
The privately owned site on Grassy Corner is currently under utilised and in poor condition, but proposals published by South Cambridgeshire District Council could see it purchased and brought back into full use with nine high-quality pitches for rent at affordable rates.
A £500,000 Government grant only available for investment in travellers pitches has already been secured following a joint bid with Cambridge City Council, and a bid for further national funding of around £300,000 is also being made to make sure any outlay by the District Council can be made on a business case basis with rents collected from tenants at the site repaying the initial investment.
In a report to Cabinet, senior councillors are being asked to recommend to a meeting of full Council that funding is made available to purchase the Fen Road site along with 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.
Council officers and district councillor for Milton Hazel Smith have already visited the Fen Road area to discuss the possible purchase of the Grassy Corner site with Travellers living on nearby pitches and the Council will continue to consult with all local people, including the Parish Council, settled and travelling communities as proposals progress.
Planning applications will be needed for upgraded facilities and pitches at the sites and further consultations would be held to make sure plans are right for people nearby and residents who could live there in the future.
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 on land around the district.
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.
Cabinet members will consider the report on Thursday 12 September and if recommended to full Council it will then be discussed by all councillors on Thursday 26 September.
A meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council's Cabinet is also due to discuss the Whaddon and Blackwell sites.
Cllr Mark Howell, South Cambridgeshire District Council's cabinet member for housing told Heart: "It is important to remember that we are at a very early stage and want to continue to work with the whole community to see if investment in the Fen Road site is the best option to meet our legal duty to provide pitches to meet the needs of families currently living in the district.
The reality is it is always difficult to find a deliverable site but we believe investment here would transform Grassy Corner for the benefit of everyone living nearby as well as people who could live there in the future. Our experiences show that Council run sites work very well and although it is still very early days we would aim to emulate the success we have had at the nearby Blackwell site. This site is clean, of the highest quality, well managed and the rents we collect make sure it doesn't cost local council taxpayers a penny."
Hazel Smith, South Cambridgeshire District Council local member for Milton, said: "A well run Council site with rental pitches could improve the area for everyone locally and I look forward to discussing this proposal further to make sure it delivers the greatest possible benefits. There's a long way to go but I would urge everyone to get involved so we can make sure all views are considered. I have already visited Fen Road with Council officers and talked to a lot of people but further discussions and consultation will be important to make sure everyone has a good opportunity to give views and hopefully shape the plans."