Council probes traveller status of applicants in Martin Clunes planning row

A council considering plans submitted for a permanent travellers’ site next to the home of actor Martin Clunes have delayed the decision again as it investigates whether the applicants can be considered as travellers.

The Doc Martin star and other villagers in Beaminster, Dorset, are objecting to the plans by Theo Langton and Ruth McGill.

The couple, who have lived in a 45ft by 16ft mobile home on land they own at Meerhay for 25 years, have applied for planning permission to continue living there permanently.

Planning officers at Dorset Council recommended to councillors on the area planning committee that the application should be granted at a meeting in April.

But after a last-minute letter was submitted before this meeting by lawyers representing Mr Clunes, the decision has been delayed again after it had been expected to be heard at a meeting later this month.

In the letter submitted to the council by Mr Clunes’ solicitors, Kitson Trotman, they argue the applicants do not fit within the definition of “travellers” and approving the plans for the permanent site would set a “harmful precedent”.

A council spokeswoman said: “We received a challenge to the applicants’ status as travellers. We are gathering further evidence due to this challenge.

“We don’t have a date for the committee to consider this application. It is very unlikely that it will be July and the next meeting of the Southern and Western Committee after this is September.”

In a letter submitted to the authority by the Friends, Families and Travellers charity, casework co-ordinator Angela Barnett wrote that the applicants did classify as travellers.

She wrote: “I agree with the planning inspector’s decision that the applicants do meet the definition of Traveller for planning purposes.

“I would be grateful if you could accept this letter in support of the applicants’ Traveller status.”

The 61-year-old Men Behaving Badly star and his wife Philippa, along with several neighbours, also say the proposals would intensify the existing travellers’ site and affect an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

They also object to the lack of amenities on the site, such as electricity, water and sewage.

Planning officers at the council have previously recommended that the plans are approved, stating: “Given the ongoing policy and research background of lack of available site options, coupled with the minimal visual impact on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty it is considered that the use of this site as a permanent base for this traveller family is acceptable.

“It is considered that the scheme is also acceptable in residential amenity terms. The development would also be acceptable in terms of highway safety issues.”