Gym and children's play area at West Boldon gypsy and travellers caravan site refused planning permission over green belt concerns

A community building erected on a caravan site during the Covid-19 pandemic has been refused by borough planning chiefs over Green Belt concerns.

West Pastures travellers site, West Boldon
West Pastures travellers site, West Boldon

Earlier this year, South Tyneside Council’s planning department received a retrospective application for the West Pastures gypsy and travellers caravan site in the West Boldon area.

This included a bid to retain a fabricated steel-clad building housing a children’s play area and a dedicated gym and fitness area, as well as a mezzanine floor intended for storage.

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According to planning documents submitted to council officials, the building was erected in May 2020 in response to the Covid-19 lockdown to provide “essential recreational facilities”.

This included the facility being used for “the shared benefit [of] all the traveller families located on the West Pastures site in the absence of access to the usual school and other community facilities normally available to the travellers due to lockdown restrictions.”

Applicants stated the building should be “retained as a permanent feature for the future benefit of the traveller families using and living on the West Pastures caravan site”.

As the building was erected without planning permission, the application also aimed to “regularise this Covid lockdown oversight”.

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During consultation on the retrospective planning application, no objections were received from members of the public.

After considering the planning application and assessing it against planning policies, South Tyneside Council’s planning department refused it on November 9, 2022.

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The main issue, it said, included the four-metre-high building being “substantial built development” which, council planners argued, would be “inappropriate development in the Green Belt” due to impacts on its “openness”.

A council decision report added the plans did not meet the “very special circumstances” needed to outweigh harm to the Green Belt.

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Comments from the applicant, included in supporting documents, claimed the building provided an “essential shared community facility” and should be approved.

It was also noted that South Tyneside Council had retrospectively approved retention of the use of the land as a gypsy and traveller caravan site in 2013, notwithstanding its location within the Green Belt.

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However council planners maintained there was space on the wider caravan site to cater for outdoor play provision and that other public gym facilities were available elsewhere.

It was also noted that the play area in the application building did not contain fixed play equipment, toilets or catering facilities.

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The council decision report added: “Whilst it is acknowledged that the application building was erected during the Covid-19 lockdown when access to indoor recreational facilities in the surrounding area was restricted, those restrictions no longer exist.

“Overall it is not considered that the application building is essential or necessary in order to meet the needs of the travelling community on the site, including visiting travellers, for access to play and gym facilities and associated storage.

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“Therefore very special circumstances sufficient to outweigh the Green Belt harm arising by way of inappropriateness do not exist and the proposals are considered unacceptable on Green Belt grounds”.

The applicant has the right to challenge the council’s refusal decision by lodging an appeal with the Secretary of State.

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For more information on the application and council decision, visit South Tyneside Council’s online planning portal and search reference: ST/0719/22/FUL