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7 December 2012, 17:05 | Updated: 7 December 2012, 17:11
South Cambridgeshire District Council leaders have confirmed this evening (Fri 7 Dec) they are no longer bidding to purchase a former travellers’ site in Meldreth after a rival offer was confirmed for the land.
Mettle Hill was shut down 16 years ago because of concerns about crime; around 3000 people recently signed a petition against it re-opening.
Cabinet members recommended last month that a meeting of Full Council should consider purchasing the site to meet legal obligations to provide sufficient future accommodation for growing Traveller families currently living in the district. But news of an offer from Meldreth Parish Council has ended their interest.
Cllr Mark Howell, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s cabinet member for housing told Heart: "We still believe the site was a viable option to meet our future legal obligations for Travellers, but the Parish Council has put in a rival bid at the market value and it would be completely wrong and a terrible use of public money if we were to pay over the odds and enter into a bidding war. If the Parish Council decides to pull out we will re-enter into negotiations."
Independent research published in June established that 20 extra pitches would be needed in South Cambridgeshire until 2031 to provide sufficient housing for Travellers – but a recent letter from Andrew Lansley MP to the Leader of the Council suggests Government policy does not require councils to provide further pitches.
Confirmation of the rival bid also means the District Council’s meeting to debate the purchase – that had been postponed until 10 January to give extra time to listen to residents’ concerns before making a decision – has now been cancelled.
Plans to fund the purchase of two existing Travellers’ sites in the district at Whaddon, and off the A14 near Milton, will now be discussed at the Council meeting on Thursday 31 January. Both sites are currently owned by Cambridgeshire County Council but managed on their behalf by South Cambridgeshire District Council.
If the purchases are agreed, South Cambridgeshire District Council will bid for further government funding from the Homes and Communities Agency to improve the site at Whaddon. This funding would also be used to add two further pitches through better use of the land.
Cllr Mark Howell said: “I would like to particularly thank Cllr Rob Searles at Meldreth Parish Council as he has worked very constructively with us about plans for the site. During our discussions with Andrew Lansley about this issue he offered to facilitate a meeting with central government to discuss Gypsy and Traveller matters for the area and we look forward to him making the arrangements.”