Meaningful context to important debate

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Writing on behalf of Rowsley Parish Council, clerk Roger Brown made serious accusations against the District Council (Mercury letters, July 11) I am grateful to the Mercury for allowing me to respond.

Planning permission for a temporary traveller site at Rowsley was granted in March this year.

While I understand the Parish Council’s continuing objections, here’s the factual background.

The District Council faced potential Judicial Review proceedings over our duty to identify a home suitable for the Traveller family in question. To ignore or delay this duty was not an option.

Indeed, Council officers have worked hard to ensure local Council Tax payers do not face a substantial legal bill. Hopefully this answers the Parish Council’s claim that the District Council is “prepared to risk the waste of considerable sums of taxpayers’ money”.

No, we are not. The cost of developing a temporary site for a maximum nine months at Rowsley is £7,425.

Hopefully the majority of Council Tax payers will appreciate that, compared with the likely cost of a legal ruling against the Council, this is money well spent.

The Parish Council asks why contamination tests have not been undertaken. In processing the planning application, the District Council’s Environmental Health team were consulted and agreed work to create a temporary site would not disturb any contamination or pose a threat to human health.

They did not suggest that a surveywas necessary nor did they suggest any mitigation measures were necessary.

This is a temporary location for the siting of a maximum of four caravans, cars, vans, a water standpipe and a chemical toilet.

There are no plans to excavate the site and the proposed stone covering is considered to give adequate protection.

I am particularly disappointed the Parish Council should state as fact that the District Council “evicted” the traveller family from a private site near Ashbourne where they were, he claims, “very happy”.

The District Council took no action and had no jurisdiction whatsoever to remove the family from this location, which is neither owned nor managed by us.

The Parish Council also makes the accusation that the Rowsley site could be “condemned by the relevant authorities”. Not true.

On fire safety and access for vehicles, there is no requirement in the planning legislation to consult with the Fire Authority.

The local Highway Authority raised no objection to the proposal on the grounds of accessibility, subject to a condition requiring demarcation of the car park at the site entrance.

The site is a short distance from Old Station Close on one side and the A6 on two sides. Even when the adjacent un-surfaced car park is full, there is adequate access for emergency vehicles.

A Fire Risk Assessment will be conducted before the site is opened and will take into account issues such as the space between caravans. This will be the District Council’s responsibility and the Fire Authority will have the right to inspect the site and the Assessment if they wish.

Rowsley Parish Council goes on to question the democratic nature of the process and demands an independent review. The District Council has made every effort to consult on the proposal, taking public opinion into account at all stages, and all Agenda and Minutes of the Council’s Committees are available on our website at www.derbyshiredales.gov.uk.

As all decisions on the temporary Rowsley site have been taken by elected Members in the public arena, a review of our decision is not required.

While the democratic decision reached by councillors may not be popular with some local residents, the legal duty to find a site to accommodate this family is upon us now and will continue until a permanent solution is found.

Your readers will be aware that the District Council is meeting this week to further discuss a potential permanent site at Homesford.

Hopefully this letter puts an important debate into a meaningful context. In this matter the District Council finds itself in a no-win situation, but will continue to do its very best both for the people of the Derbyshire Dales and also the people it has a duty to support.

Dorcas Bunton

Chief Executive

Derbyshire Dales District Council

To read the Parish Council’s letter, click here.