Local authority misleads planning inquiry

Published: Wednesday, 31 August 2022

A LOCAL Authority has misled a planning Inquiry over boat dweller accommodation assessment, reports the National Bargee Travellers Association.

It stating that Elmbridge Borough Council concealed the fact that it had carried out a Boat Dweller Accommodation Needs Assessment almost six weeks before it reported to a planning inquiry on 15th March 2022 that the study had just begun.

To boost its case

This it believes in order to boost its case for removing boat dwellers who are moored on unregistered land on the Thames.

The council had served planning enforcement notices on the boat dwellers in August 2019 to try to get them removed, which bounced the boat dwellers into applying for planning consent for the moorings in 2020, which the council then refused.

The boaters then appealed to the Planning Inspectorate. If the Planning Inspector had known that the Boat Dweller Accommodation Needs Assessment had been completed on 3rd February 2022—and that it concluded there was a need for at least 10 residential moorings in the boroughthe boaters’ appeal may well have succeeded.

Mooring lower ThamesMisled the planning inquiry

Not only did the council mislead the planning inquiry, it also failed to use the Assessment to inform and shape planning policy in its Draft Local Plan for 2022 to 2037, published on 17th June 2022. The Local Plan designates the need for and the locations where different types of development, such as housing, can take place and specifies where land is to be protected from development.

The south bank of the Thames forms the entirety of the eight miles northern boundary of Elmbridge, yet the Draft Local Plan was prepared without regard to boat dwellers and fails to address the needs of those known to be living on so-called ‘unauthorised moorings’, contrary to Paragraph 60 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This failing cannot be blamed on Covid-19 as the Council managed to complete other background assessments to inform the Draft Local Plan well before the final consultation stage.

Lacks fairness, transparency and proper engagement

Planning Consultant Alison Heine represented some of the boat dwellers in the planning appeal, and explained:

“The approach taken by Elmbridge Council lacks fairness, transparency and proper engagement with those most affected by this matter. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the February 2022 Boat Dweller Accommodation Needs Assessment was deliberately withheld.”

Steve Cross and Fatmir Kastrati, who have been moored at Molesey in Elmbridge for 16 and 13 years respectively, told:

“We are enraged at the injustice of it all. This report does not fulfil the boaters’ needs and Elmbridge Council are obviously deliberately sidestepping their legal obligations towards their boat dwelling residents.”

Campaigning for this change

Section 124 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 brought boat dwellers into the orbit of local authority accommodation needs assessments in England for the first time. The National Bargee Travellers Association had been campaigning for this change in the law since 2009. Pamela Smith, Chair of the NBTA explained:

“So far the outcome has been very patchy. Not all Local Housing Authorities where there are navigable waterways even know they need to include boat dwellers in accommodation needs assessments. A few have researched the needs of boat dwellers in depth, but this has not yet led to adequate provision of either temporary or permanent moorings for boat dwellers in the locations where they are required.

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