River Lane travellers' site appeal to be determined by Eric Pickles
THE future of an unauthorised gypsy site in Leatherhead rests with a government minister after a long-running dispute.
In December Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) rejected three applications for "permanent use of the land as a gypsy and traveller caravan site" in River Lane.
The families on the site appealed against the decision, but Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has decided to determine the appeal himself.
The decision will be heard by a planning inspector at a public inquiry before the inspector takes the findings to Mr Pickles for a decision.
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Councillor Simon Ling, MVDC member for planning, said: "We did not expect the decision to have this appeal determined by the Secretary of State.
"However, this will not change the approach that we take in representing the council at appeal, nor the process of enforcement that was agreed at the development control committee meeting on February 1.
"We understand the national significance of the debate on traveller sites, and in that respect we hope that whatever decision is made by the Secretary of State about the future of this site will provide greater certainty in future similar cases both here and elsewhere."
In 2007 a planning inspector granted four years' temporary permission to give MVDC time to find alternative sites, but none were identified by the council.
After permission lapsed, the Gypsies applied for permanent permission, but this was rejected by councillors on December 7, against the advice of council officers.
"This battle has been going on too long," said Susan King, who lives at the site.
"It's not necessary and it's wasting taxpayers' money, they are spending it on something that shouldn't have come around.
"They had four years to find us an alternative site and they couldn't, so they were recommended to give permanent permission. We really hope it does get resolved."
Susan Wood lives opposite the site in River Lane and is one of three families who have opposed the development.
She said: "I suppose it's nice to think we are actually going to get a final decision, whatever happens.
"That would be wonderful because they've been dragging it in and out of court and the council for coming on nine years now.
"For both sides it would be nice to know where we stand."
Any decision by the Secretary of State can be challenged in the High Court if an application is made within six weeks of the date of the decision.