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Covenant raises questions

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: December 21, 2012

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AS CLIFF Richard says, Christmas is a time for giving and for receiving.

No doubt for Ashbourne Allotments Association and the residents of Mayfield Road, they felt Nestle had presented them with a fantastic gift for festive season.

The restrictive covenant on the land adjacent to Ashbourne Cemetery is going to prove a major hurdle in the face of Derbyshire Dales District Council’s plans to place a traveller’s site there.

Nestle have given campaigners against the proposal the stumbling block they have desperately been searching for.

And the district council? Has refused to comment further until the New Year.

Apparently the district council is now focussing on research for a detailed report which will explore as many options for travellers as possible ahead of “very very thorough consultation.”

That’s nice.

It seems entirely sensible that, if you were to consider finding an appropriate home for someone, especially someone who may need access to specific services, you would look at all the available options and then, perhaps, if you were going to be building something new (be it hard-standing or a house), you’d have a chat with the people who live and work nearby.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Watery Lane site was picked way back in October. Planning permission was sought at the beginning of November.

After a huge public outcry, the council quickly back-pedalled before coming up with the idea of searching for lots of appropriate sites around the district, although out of the dozen listed, only three were thought to be even remotely appropriate.

And one of those three, the prime candidate, the plot selected by the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group, had a restrictive covenant on it.

A convenant the council knew about and had already written to Nestle about, requesting to, in essence, buy the covenant from the firm, allowing them to release the land from it’s ‘no development’ restrictions.

Also, a covenant that was still in place when the council applied to itself for planning permission.

The News Telegraph asked the district council the following questions: “Does the convenant now prevent the council from putting a traveller’s site next to the cemetery and if the convenant was a) in place and b) known to the council, why was planning permission even considered?

Is it not a waste of council tax-payers money to be putting in a futile planning application and what was the idea behind putting all the work/time etc into creating a report for the application if the covenant hadn’t been released?

Also, what would have happened if the planning permission had been discussed and approved at November’s Southern Area Planning Committee and then the covenant had not been released?”

The district council’s response: “While we’re conscious of the level of public interest in this issue, it isn’t appropriate for the District Council to comment in any detail at this stage on this particular site in isolation. We are of course aware of the Nestle position, but are currently concentrating on putting together a more detailed report, as requested by last week’s Corporate Committee, on all potential sites, including new suggestions submitted by Derbyshire County Council. Because of this, we won’t be commenting further until the New Year.”

Excellent. A perfect example of democracy, transparency and accountability in action.

It would be pure conjecture to suggest that the district council is rapidly distancing itself from the Watery Lane debacle, or to say that, perhaps an unwillingness to answer these questions is rooted in the fear that the tax-payers won’t like the answers.

Nestle has given the town a gift this Christmas.

And not because it has prevented a traveller’s site in the town, but because it hopefully will prevent a traveller’s site on the most inappropriate site in the town.

Maybe now is the time, at Christmas, for the town to receive some answers from those we elected to serve our interests.

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