Hartlepool councillor denies rumours that politics played a part in choosing Hart Village for gypsy site

Hart Village

Hart Village

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A PERMANENT gypsy and traveller plot could be built near Hart Village - around a mile away from the plush Bishop Cuthbert estate - after councillors selected their chosen sites.

Hartlepool Borough Council’s finance and policy committee selected their preferred sites from the 16-strong shortlist of council-owned sites and both are in the Hart ward.

The plot at Hart Smallholdings West is the number one choice with Hart Smallholdings East, further down the A179, the second option, with both capable of holding eight pitches.

But the sites will only be developed once the demand presents itself and officers say the local authority has never had a formal application to build a permanent plot.

The council has to earmark a site under Government policy and the sites, subject to wide public consultation, all met the national criteria.

Officers said if it is built there would be a minimum occupancy of six-months.

Hart Smallholdings West is the first choice as it would not need a new road building and it is further away from residential homes.

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “We don’t know when the site will be built but it will only go forward when the demand for the site presents itself.

“There is no demand at the moment.”

Group leader of Putting Hartlepool First, councillor Alison Lilley, questioned the two sites being far away from shops, schools and other amenities but Coun Akers-Belcher said sites were shortlisted because they met the criteria.

Labour councillor Rob Cook said while he was not “100 per cent happy” with the decision he acknowledged both sites met the criteria, while Coun Lilley added she was “extremely unhappy” about losing the “rich soil” on the preferred site.

Labour councillor Marjorie James said the preferred site would have “less impact” on residents and said councillors had no choice but to earmark sites.

Putting Hartlepool First councillor Geoff Lilley said he’d heard rumours other councillors had said on a site visit that “less political damage” would be done picking these plots.

But Coun James said Coun Lilley had already admitted he wasn’t on the visit and that he was only “repeating hearsay”, while Labour councillor Peter Jackson said he hadn’t heard any comments like that.

Labour colleague Robbie Payne thanked the officers for their hard work on the public consultation, which followed the formal examination of the council’s proposed Local Plan by a Government planning inspector, which was suspended after he called on officers to carry out further work to find an appropriate site.

The 13 original sites were land at West View Road, Throston Grange Lane, two areas in Burbank Street, Catcote Road/Macaulay Road, Wiltshire Way, Old Cemetery Road, Lennox Walk/Owton Manor Lane, Masefield Road/Gulliver Road, Hart smallholdings east and west, near Hart village, and Summerhill, off Catcote Road.

Three more sites were then added including Briarfields, land at Clarence Road and land at Huckelhoven Way/Reed Street.

Seven were immediately dismissed yesterday because either another use had recently been identified or because they were classed as too small.

Members then went through the remaining nine, with sites removed due to traffic concerns, loss of green space in the centre of communities, that they would be too close to the railway or impact on future developments.

The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) said funding is available now for sites that can be identified and completed by March 2015.

But councillors agreed not to develop in the timescale set out by the HCA, but wait until the demand is there and apply for funding as necessary.

There is uncertainty about what level of funding may be available post March 2015 and the liability would then fall on the council.

The decision had to be made before August 18, the deadline for the submission of further information to the planning inspector, who meets again in September.