Protect and defend

24 May 2012

I believe it is a basic duty of councillors to defend the character of the communities they represent, writes Councillor Mark Versallion.

I represent large areas of English countryside that the people who live there want defended, and changed and potentially developed only in a lawful and carefully considered way. Last year I was contacted by residents who had seen some suspicious work going on in a local green belt field. I visited the site and saw that hard standing and fencing had been laid.

I contacted various officers to begin investigations and preventative measures. Central Bedfordshire Council acted swiftly, issuing an enforcement notice requiring the removal of the hard standing, obtaining a High Court injunction to prevent illegal occupation of the land and putting in place a 24-7 security presence to reinforce the notice. After our intervention, the landowner then applied for retrospective planning permission, which was refused. Concurrently, the council's enforcement notice was appealed which delayed the landowner having to remove the hard standing.

The Planning Inspectorate eventually made the decision to throw out this appeal and the landowner was again instructed to comply. The hard standing was not removed so Central Bedfordshire Council sent in diggers and removed it.

We took swift action because we know removing unlawful developments can be both costly and time consuming and always results in very unhappy and frustrated residents.

I was determined that the council would not be seen to be impotent in the face of yet another attempt at illegal development and occupation of a site. The decision to pay for security wasn't without challenge but we were prepared to take a firm stance because that is what the public want.

In a situation like this you have to be prepared to see it through to the end and that's what we did. This was a clear demonstration to residents that we care about the same things they do and that the council will take action to protect this part of England whenever it can.

Councillor Mark Versallion is Executive Member for Children's Services at Central Bedfordshire Council

11 June 2012

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