Landowner speaks out over plans for Topsham travellers site

THE owner of a field earmarked as a site for travellers has voiced his concern over the plans which have sparked anger among parts of Topsham’s community.

Michael Dart, who owns a plot of land near Topsham Football Club – the possible location for a travellers’ site - has vowed to fight the proposal.

The businessman, who runs Dart’s Farm, however, said while he was ‘adamantly opposed’ there was only so much he could do to try and stop the plans being approved.

Mr Dart is keen to see the idea shelved as he does not feel the Topsham community, notably the 300 residents of Newport Park, who are mainly elderly and some infirm, have been properly consulted.

The proposal forms part of a masterplan for the Newcourt development which will see 2,300 new homes built near the East Devon town.

Mr Dart said: “We are fighting the plans. We’re adamantly opposed but there is only such much we can do.

“The best way for this to be dealt with is for the local population to write letters to Exeter City Council. It is all about the community letting itself be heard.

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“We live in a wonderful area. I was brought up in Topsham and I still live here along with my children.

“I am not against travellers but I just do not understand why they should be imposed on our community.

“It is also very relevant that travellers do not like living in areas where they feel not welcome.

“That is the very essence of what makes a community – when people are happy living with one another.”

Mr Dart added: “We do not think Exeter City Council has done a sufficiently robust city-wide search of the best possible site.

“The Devon County Council gypsy study report of 2006 said that rural and semi-rural locations were the preference for travellers and clearly our site is in an urban area.

“The report also advises that local authorities should take great care in consulting communities and they just haven’t done that.”

Members of the council’s executive committee voted to approve making provision for a travellers’ site as part of the Newcourt development.

It deferred making a decision on the exact location to allow a site visit to be carried out and until the committee’s next meeting in November.

Scores of angry Newport Park residents held a meeting last Tuesday to discuss the plans.

A spokesperson for Exeter City Council said: “We did undertake a site search and invited the public to suggest sites. Unfortunately none were forthcoming.

“Exeter City Council covers a predominantly urban area and any sites will need to be within or on the edge of the city.

“Gypsy and travellers sites should be on land that is otherwise suitable for conventional housing development with access to social and community facilities. That means not in isolated rural areas.”

The Gpysy Council, a body which supports gypsy families in planning applications and their fight for decent legal places to live, was unavailable for comment.

Scores of angry Newport Park residents held a meeting last Tuesday to discuss the plans.