A farmer told of his outrage at being repeatedly denied planning permission to build a home for 13 years – while a neighbouring illegal travellers’ site was allowed to flourish.
Weary Bruce Margetts, 46, has been living in a mobile home on his 47-acre farm in Smithy Fen near Cottenham, Cambs., since 1998 while applying to build a modest bungalow.
But despite having tended cattle on the site since 1992, South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) has refused planning permission for a permanent residence three times.
Over the same period the Smithy Fen travellers site next door – just half a mile away – has boomed and was home to more than 800 illegal travellers at its peak in 2003.
While the 11-acre legitimate travellers site grew to 20-acres without planning permission, Bruce has repeatedly been told his three-bed property is not suitable for the farm.
Seven unlawful plots at Smithy Fen currently remain occupied without planning permission, featuring semi-permanent structures.
After years of living in the mobile home, Bruce is now desperate to build a small bungalow with an office and a bathroom for use by vets on cattle visits.
He is currently living on a temporary housing permit – but fears that he will lose his livelihood without permission to build a proper home.
He said: ”When I first moved into the mobile home, I thought it would just be for a few years and now it’s been around 13.
”I’m able to raise a mortgage to build a house, but I’m just waiting for the planning permission.
”At the moment, I’m in an advanced state of camping and I’m relying on the council to continue granting temporary permits.
”It’s essential that I’m here to look after the cattle but if I was unable to live here then I would lose everything. I’m a one man band, living and working alone.
”I just want a permanent residence here that’s not going to get in anyone’s way. I’ve planted around 400 trees since I moved here so no one will even see it.
”I’ve built my business up gradually – and at a time of real difficulty for agriculture when I’ve seen a few established farmers in the area fold.
”There are travellers in the area that seem to have been treated much more leniently than I have.
”You would think that the council would want to support people who are investing money into the local economy.”
Bruce tends to around 100 cattle singlehandedly on Oxholme Farm and needs to be on site to be on hand for calving, feeding and in case of accidents or emergencies.
He currently lives in a two-room mobile home, on the farm with his large herds of Aberdeen Angus and Continental cattle.
He has spent an estimated #8,000 on temporary and building planning applications since 2001, and is set to apply for permission a fourth time later this year.
He has even hired planning consultants and had the plans for the three-bedroom bungalow he wants to build drawn up by an architect.
According to government guidelines, those wishing to build country housing must demonstrate an essential need and the viability of their business.
But after building his business from 10 calves to a one hundred-strong herd Mr Margetts cannot understand why permission has not been granted.
Deborah Roberts, Independent councillor for SCDC, said she had a great deal of sympathy for his plight.
She said: ”I find it extraordinary that Bruce is not being supported in his ambitions to build a modest home on his land at his own expense.
”Bruce has a large herd and needs to be on the land 24/7 to tend to them. He is currently living in a ramshackle mobile home that is not at all suitable for his needs.
”Traveller families with no connection to the Fens have been allowed to stay when they do not need to be here.
”Given the many difficulties we have had in the area with travellers, I find it ludicrous that the council would stand in the way of him building a home.”
Last September the council were criticised for spending £13,000 installing sewage facilities at a gypsy site to protect their human rights – and recovering just £500 from the travellers.
There are currently around 50 authorised plots at Smithy Fen. A total of 11 other illegal plots were bulldozed at cost of £350,000 last summer.
To comply with government guidelines, SCDC said they had consulted Rural Chartered Surveyors and Planning Consultants Acorus.
A spokesperson for SCDC said: ”Mr Margetts has been granted permission for a mobile home on the land while he establishes his business.
”As the proposal is for a house in the countryside, the applicant must demonstrate that it is both essential and viable – for example, for providing 24 hour care for animals.
”These are Government requirements.
”So far he has been unable to show us the financial information needed to confirm the viability of the farm.
”In 2009 he was granted another three years’ permission and if he continues to progress as he expects, it is likely we will be able to support an application for a permanent dwelling.”
The Smithy Fen travellers’ site in Cottenham has been in existence for more than 40 years but boomed when up to 800 Irish travellers flooded the site in 2003.
Tension between the villagers of Cottenham and travellers escalated in 2004 after the murder of a postman at a local pub, the Chequers.
Residents claimed the killer was one of the Irish travellers, possibly after a dispute over a card game. No arrests were made.
In 2005, 22 families lost a High Court appeal against eviction from 13 plots on the site and were given 12 months to leave.
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