Brookwood Lye Road – Traveller Site

On the 20th November I received notification that the planning application for Brookwood Lye Road had been submitted. It still hasn’t been validated and until it is, there isn’t a plan number and no one has the opportunity to comment on it. For an application of this size, it can take quite a while for the application to be validated.

Even so, I said I’d set out my thoughts on the development, including advantages, disadvantages, hard limits and benefits.

To recap, many people have made representations to me about many things, but three things stand out which this development goes someway to resolving. They were the risk of Five Acres expanding, congestion at Brookwood Crossroads and the lack of local, affordable housing. I firmly believe that what is presented in this planning application makes significant steps to all three of those.

This post looks at the Traveller Site in more detail.

When I was elected in 2012, there were 13 permanent pitches at Five Acres. A further two temporary pitches were granted with my support, bringing the total up to 15. Government guidelines at the time suggested a Traveller Site should have no more than 15 pitches for a reasonably harmonious life for all residents. In addition, one of the pitches was substantial, and the pitch owner had his three adult children also living within the boundary of the pitch. These additional three dwellings were legal in planning terms bringing the number of families living there to 18. My goal was to bring the site up to the maximum levels and then effectively close it to further expansion. It was a sound plan at the time and I had the support of residents in Brookwood that I had surveyed.

In August 2015, the Government removed its guidelines on the maximum number of pitches. Officers had already decided months before to significantly expand the site by making the dubious claim that as it was in the ownership of two individuals, it was in fact two sites. This theory allowed them to almost double the numbers by recommending a further eight pitches and a handful of Transit pitches. This would have brought the site up to 29 as far as I could calculate and I considered that grossly unfair, totally unacceptable and frankly outrageous. Unfair in that Brookwood was taking over half the borough’s pitches, unacceptable on the Travellers themselves to be forced into living in cramped conditions and utterly outrageous that such a dodgy decision had been taken to declare it two sites when all the evidence going back a decade, including the borough’s own Traveller Accommodation Assessment document from 2013 considered it one site. On top of that no one had actually asked the Travellers themselves if they were happy for that level of expansion.

Having explored the size of Traveller Sites in the Overview and Scrutiny Committee last year where a recommendation by our speakers was made that sites should be no more that 20 pitches, with a preference that they should be three to five pitches, I have convinced WBC officers that smaller sites are the best way to allow the occupants of Traveller Sites to integrate with their local surroundings. Further work will be done on this within the next round of the Site Allocations Development Plan Document due in the New Year.

Essentially, what has happened at Five Acres is that much of the existing land has been bought by Thameswey for fixed housing. The Traveller Site has shrunk down well over 50% in its land area and now primarily sits behind the bungalow. With a very well designed site, which has been done in conjunction with the owners of the site, the site will now have 19 permanent pitches and one transit pitch to allow some flexibility for visitors.

The planning application to regularise all this has not been verified or authorised yet. However as far as I’m aware, nothing that is currently being developed contravenes what is in the application. Strictly speaking, work shouldn’t be happening, so the modifications currently ongoing there are technically at risk of changes to the eventual approved plans. This is especially the case when the drainage is taken into account. The flooding of Brookwood Lye Road is complex and part of the solution lies in the Traveller Site.

This site has been a Traveller Site now for well over a decade. Finally getting the site to a well designed mobile home park will help the residents living there and also provide comfort to the village that further expansion won’t occur. I think it will be renamed away from Five Acres although I do not know to what at this stage.

Overall, this is positive, the site is at capacity, it’s well designed, the owner lives on and manages the site, and has chosen to make home in Brookwood for his family.

I think this is the best outcome Brookwood could have expected when considering the history here.

Cheers.

Kevin