PLANS to create a caravan site for four gypsy families have been refused by councillors.

The proposals were put forward after the families felt it was unsafe to live at The Beeches caravan park, Chipping Norton.

West Oxfordshire District Council’s (WODC) upland area planning sub-committee met on Monday to decide whether to change the use of land in Over Norton Road, also in Chipping Norton.

The site lies in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) with councillors discussing that and the safety of the families.

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WODC officer Kim Smith recommended the application be refused.

She said at the meeting: “The families previously lived on The Beeches caravan park until very recently, but due to overcrowding on the site, there is insufficient space for the family to grow, and for various other reasons, they consider it is no longer safe for the family to continue to reside on the site.

“The family has lived in the Chipping Norton area for all of their lives.”

Talking about the safety issue, Phil Shaw, business manager for development management at WODC, said: “I don’t think it would be appropriate to put that in the public domain at the moment.

“There are a number of family circumstances there that led the person who’s the patriarch of this particular family to feel that it wasn’t appropriate or safe to keep his family there.

“We as officers are satisfied that was a genuine concern he had.”

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Although the application was refused, Merilyn Davies, cabinet member for communities and housing, told her peers at the meeting she thought it should be approved.

“We’re so concerned about the AONB that we’re more worried about bats and newts than we are about the people that live on it,” she said.

“We’ve identified that we need 19 new sites before 2031, that’s in the Local Plan.

“This is a new site that has potential.”

Councillor for the Woodstock and Bladon ward, Julian Cooper, said the land was a ‘beautiful bit of countryside’.

He said: “It is a very special bit of landscape this bit of West Oxfordshire, and the officer’s recommendation is right on the grounds it is protecting that very beautiful bit of countryside.”

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Nigel Colston added: “This is a very difficult one for the officers on the humanitarian side of things.

“The district council should find alternative sites, as difficult as that may be.”

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Shaw said: “The committee was mindful of the local connections and family circumstances of the applicant but the decision to refuse this application was made on the grounds that it contravenes elements of the West Oxfordshire Local Plan and national policy.

“The site lies in an AONB, between two conservation areas and next to a public footpath and members considered the development did not conserve the appearance of the protected areas.

“However, we are happy to work with the family to find a more suitable site.”