WORK on a controversial new site for short-term traveller accommodation in Middlewich is stepping up.

Cheshire East Council intends to submit a planning application for 10 transit pitches and an amenity block at the former Cledford Hall site, in Cledford Lane, next month.

Cabinet members will also be asked in December to give Frank Jordan, CEC's executive director of place, the authority to award a construction contract for the site to a preferred bidder.

New details of the proposed transit site were revealed at a CEC scrutiny committee on Monday, where it was also confirmed the budget for the project is £2.2 million, including a grant application for more than £500,000 from Homes England.

Winsford Guardian:

Cledford Hall, before the barns were demolished

Karen Carsberg, head of housing at CEC, told councillors Cledford Hall has been chosen as the 'preferred option' for a new transit site following a 'robust process' – and there is no alternative.

She said: “I’m not aware of another site. We have spent many years trying to find a suitable site for transit provision, so at this point in time, no we don’t have a plan B.”

Cheshire East currently has no transit site, meaning there is no suitable accommodation for short-term traveller stays in the borough, and police do not have the power to close unauthorised encampments without a court order.

A presentation shown at Monday's virtual CEC meeting showed the number of unauthorised encampments across the borough had risen in the past three years.

Winsford Guardian:

The number of unauthorised encampments in Cheshire East. Image: CEC

CEC granted planning permission for a transit site at Cledford Hall back in 2015, despite fierce opposition from councillors and Fiona Bruce MP, but the council ran out of time to start the work.

This time round, the council has already appointed Manchester and Cheshire Construction to carry out surveys, develop the site's design, prepare a planning application for December and to tender out different work packages to contractors.

The decision taken by cabinet next month would mean CEC can get straight to work as soon as planning permission is granted.

Ms Carsberg said: “This will only proceed if planning permission is granted, and in no way are we trying to pre-empt a decision, but if permission is granted it will provide us with the ability to proceed.”

Middlewich councillors have spent the past 18 months in a battle against the plans, after CEC revived them last summer in the second part of its local plan.

Cllr Carol Bulman, Labour CEC member for Middlewich, accepts that the borough needs a transit site but insists Cledford Lane is not the right place for it – close to the Ansa site, and with no suitable footpaths into town.

Winsford Guardian:

She said: “It seems in no way in terms of its location a suitable place to put men, women and children.

“I know it is a transient site and the whole point is that it is somewhere that people will not be staying very long, but it is not a site that we would build houses on.

“It’s not a place that is suitable for permanent dwellings so why would we put people there even briefly?

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“We have a very good settled gypsy community, Romani community, they have been here longer than I have – they are very settled and we don’t want anything to unsettle that relationship.”

If approved, the new site is likely to be used for stays of two to four weeks at a time, and travellers who use the site would not be able to return to it for six months.