FOR the first time in well over 10 years, the Government Planning Inspectorate will be holding an inquiry in Woking.
The wife of Tom Valler, the owner of green belt land south of Murrays Lane in Byfleet, has lodged an appeal with the Secretary of State against Woking Borough Council’s unanimous decision to refuse permission for a traveller site.
Communities and Local Government Secretary, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, will personally decide on the appeal, which was noted by the borough’s planning committee on Tuesday.
Chairman, Councillor Michael Smith, explained: “People can write in with new information, but any previous correspondence, details and comments, plus the report by case officer Michael Parker, will be made available to the inspectorate for consideration.
“The public hearing will be held in Woking, probably in March, and it is thought it might run for as long as three days. The inspector will then pass on the report to Mr Pickles, who will make a decision on it.”
Meanwhile the Byfleet Residents’ Action Group are keeping a close eye on developments.
Secretary John Bond said: “An appeal seems likely to be a waste of time, given the planning officer’s report, the unanimous vote by councillors and the access problems raised at the last minute. Even so, we were half expecting it and it does mean that things should go quiet until next year when the appeal will be heard – it’s almost a relief to know what is planned.
“Eric Pickles said in July he would be looking at appeals on traveller sites over at least the next six months – so it’s not unexpected that he would look at this one. Unfortunately we really don’t know whether this is good or bad news; he has acted almost randomly with recent appeals.
“Two things on our side are the access problem and the fact that this is ‘virgin’ territory for a traveller site – he has used these criteria to refuse a site fairly recently.”
The controversial gypsy site saga that caused outrage among villagers has reared its head for the third time since January.
Two applications were submitted to the council for the Change of Use from agricultural land to four pitches for an extended Romani Gypsy family with associated works, four day-rooms, hardstanding and a sewage treatment plant.
The first, by Mrs G Valler, appeared to go under the radar when a Byfleet resident spotted the plans by accident with only three days remaining for comments and no notice of proposals to villagers.
It resulted in a crescendo of complaints for lack of consultation, and emergency meetings called by the residents’ association.
The application was subsequently pulled by the council ‘due to insufficient information’.
The second was rejected unanimously at the end of July after nearly 1,200 residents posted comments online, with Woking MP Jonathan Lord’s backing. Up to 400 objectors packed the town’s HG Wells centre, brandishing T-shirts and banners, to hear the verdict.
Earlier in July it was ann-ounced that for at least six months The Secretary of State will personally decide on planning appeals involving travellers’ applications for green belt.
The policy was introduced because his original advice to only allow such development ‘under very special circumstances’ was being flouted by local councils .
Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said Mr Pickles wants to ensure that the Government’s ‘clear policy int-entions’ in relation to travellers were being met.
He added: “The Secretary of State wishes to make clear that in considering planning applications, although each case will depend on its facts, he considers that the single issue of un-met demand – whether for traveller sites or conventional housing – is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt, and any other harm, to constitute the ‘very special circumstances’ that justify the inappropriate dev-elopment in green belt land.”
The last time a planning inquiry was held in Woking it concerned the Chertsey Road McLaren development.
lAll representations must be received by November 11.
The Planning Inspectorate does not acknowledge them but will make sure that any received by the deadline are passed on to the inspector.
All correspondence must quote APPA3655/A/13/2204458. Details of the appeal are available now at www.woking.gov.uk/planning/publicaccess