Options for change - Billington
We've agreed, with Bedfordshire and Thames Valley Police Forces, Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, to work together to develop a long-term solution to address the issues at these sites.
The group has considered some different options.
One option we consulted on was to buy The Stables and Greenacres sites (through Compulsory Purchase Order if necessary), along with some land as close to the existing sites as possible, build a new Gypsy and Traveller site and close the Greenacres and The Stables sites. The new site would be owned and managed by us. It would be well run, with all of the appropriate facilities like water, sewerage and electricity and any crime and anti-social behaviour would not be tolerated.
The new site would be as close to the existing sites as possible. This option is not about moving the gypsies and travellers away from Billington.
This option is a lengthy process and there may be statutory objection and an inquiry. However, at the time, it appeared to be the only option that gives the potential for a long-term solution to the core issues.
This option is estimated to cost approximately £9 million (this does not include the cost of officer time across a number of organisations).
Another option considered and consulted on is called "Discontinuance and Injunction". This option involves removing the existing planning permissions and replacing them with new planning permissions and conditions. Injunctions would then be used to remove any occupants on sites who are not legally entitled to be there. Our existing planning enforcement approach would then be used for any further breaches of conditions.
Discontinuance can be a lengthy process as there is a requirement to allow an owner / occupier to be heard at a public inquiry. Also, it does not automatically enable us to remove structures already erected without the necessary planning permission. However, there are alternative enforcement powers that can be used to achieve this.
Non-compliance can only be managed using the current planning enforcement framework. This means enforcement can take long periods of time where no interim action is possible and the situation is therefore likely to deteriorate. This option does not resolve the issues around landownership which will continue to make enforcement challenging.
This option is estimated to cost £900,000 (not including the cost of officer time across a number of organisations), but it does not address the problems with the lack of basic amenities, health and safety and safeguarding concerns.
For these reasons, we (and other organisations) do not think this is a suitable solution.
During the consultation, we were open to suggestions for other ways that the issues could be addressed.
The consultation opened up a very positive and constructive dialogue between us and the residents. The residents have acknowledged that things need to change and are prepared to work with us to avoid the new council-managed site option. Already we have seen progress being made in terms of clarifying land ownership and engaging with utility companies and our planning team to address the issues.
To this end the Executive agreed to continue working with residents to address the issues. However, Executive also agreed to continue to plan for a fall-back position to acquire the sites should the recommended process fail to bring the site up to the required standard. In this event officers will bring a recommendation to Executive, to acquire Greenacres and The Stables using a Compulsory Purchase Order if necessary.