Crunch Time for Hunslet Gypsy Planning Appeal

A four year planning battle to create a small Gypsy/Traveller site at Sandon Mount in Hunslet Carr is coming to a head.

Sandon Mount Planning AppealResidents have opposed plans by land-owner Mr Michael Maloney to build a site for four caravans on former allotments. This week a Planning Inspector heard the case during a full-day government-led appeal hearing, in the Civic Hall and on the site. A  final decision will be announced later this month.

The planning application is for a Gypsy/Traveller encampment – made up of one static and three touring caravans plus amenities, in a 150m² space – on part of a derelict allotment site between Sandon Mount and the M621, just up from Hunslet Carr Primary School. The application was originally submitted in 2012, by Mr Michael Maloney – an established member of the Leeds Gypsy community – for himself, his wife and children, and his father.

But following considerable delays within the Council planning process, and in the face of growing resistance from the local community, the application was rejected in 2014. The rejection by the Council was based on a complex mix of issues, which in turn were the focus of this week’s appeal hearing. They include:

  • the tension between the city-wide strategy for provision of green space versus the need to support or provide encampment sites for the Gypsy and Traveller communities (both of which will be covered in a land allocation plan due to be adopted by the Council later this year), and whether this site can be counted as green space;
  • whether the proposed development would inhibit the use of the surrounding green space by other local residents;
  • the suitability of the site for a residential encampment, with particular reference to noise (being immediately next to the M621);
  • concerns that the site wasn’t large enough for the proposed scheme, especially if Mr Maloney was also to run a business off the site (a suggestion he rejected);
  • the capacity of Leeds City Council to dictate use of private land, or not;
  • and the details of how Mr Maloney might create access routes onto the site.

To further complicate matters, the site itself has a long, chequered past: it was originally part of the Woodhouse Hill allotment site, but lapsed into disuse and fell into private hands courtesy of a legal loophole known as ‘adverse possession’. In turn, Mr Maloney bought the site in late 2008 – and the site was also briefly occupied with a non-permitted encampment (not connected with Mr Maloney), during which time there was considerable anti-social behaviour on and around the site.

This week’s hearing – on Tuesday 9 June – was chaired by independent inspector Bern Hellier. Other attendees included: Mr Michael Maloney, his legal representative Mrs Alison Heine from Heine Planning Consultancy, and Leeds GATE (Gypsy And Traveller Exchange); representatives for Leeds City Council, including planning and environmental health officers; Councillor Elizabeth Nash; 25+ members of Hunslet Carr Residents Association, who have stated their opposition to the scheme with a 200+ strong petition; and their representative, Clive Brook of Johnson Brook Planning and Development Consultants.

Despite the high stakes and high emotions, Mr Hellier said he hoped the day would take the form of ‘a constructive conversation’ – and sure enough, it was a largely good-natured process, that offered glimmers of hope that the different stakeholders might find ways to work together. In particular, Mr Maloney welcomed the proposal that the Council might consider simply swapping the site for another less contentious one; and on site in the afternoon, members of the Hunslet Carr Residents Association and Mr Maloney were to able to meet and talk face-to-face for the first time.

Ben Chastney of Leeds GATE, told South Leeds Life:

“We are pleased that Michael has persevered with his application to secure a home for his family, despite how difficult the process has been.  It has been frustrating to see how long a decision took to be made and that the reasons for refusal were poorly justified.  We hope that the Inspector recognised this during the hearing, and agrees that Michael’s application represents a fair and reasonable solution to finding his family a home.”

The decision now lies with the Inspector, Mr Hellier – with the result likely to be announced by the end of the month.