PRIVATE gypsy sites in a remote area of Darlington should not be allowed to expand into more exposed green fields, council officials have argued, despite a recognised need for more pitches in the town.

Snipe Lane, near Hurworth, which lies off the A66 bypass, has become an unofficial gypsy site with a number of private pitches granted by the council due to its largely hidden location and a lack of protests from local residents.

But although the council is content to allow pitches to develop on the west side of Snipe Lane, an application for a single family Gypsy site on the undeveloped eastern side of the lane was turned down by councillors earlier this year on the grounds that it would damage the visual impact of the area, which is more visible from the A66.

At an appeal hearing, chaired by Government inspector Louise Crosby, Darlington Borough Council officers argued that allowing a pitch on the eastern side of the lane would lead to a proliferation of applications the council would not be able to turn down.

The appellant, Thomas Lee, argued that he had no intention of applying for extra pitches at the site and simply wanted to create a stable home for his wife and four children on his own land.

Adrian Hobbs, planning officer for the council, described Snipe Lane as “a lane of two halves” and said the west side of the lane was a good place to allow private Gypsy sites as it did not generate opposition from the public.

He added: “It works on the west side of Snipe Lane but on the east we have always tried to discourage applications – we want to keep that side clear of development.

“There are views from the A66 and a public footpath and it is quite clear that the appeal site is an open field.

“We feel strongly that should Mr Lee get planning permission for a site there that it would set a precedent where we could not turn down further applications.”

Andrew Moss, speaking on behalf of Mr Lee, acknowledged that the appeal site was an open field, but argued the topography of the land meant that the site would be hidden from view.

He added: “In 2009 the first application for Snipe Lane was refused on the grounds of visual impact and allowed on appeal. There are now a number of private pitches along that lane.

“Circumstances change, there is a need for more Gypsy sites and this is an area that has been able to make a great contribution to those figures than was expected five years ago.”

The council has previously acknowledged an unmet demand for Gypsy pitches in the borough and has said it will require ‘windfall’ private sites to make up the numbers alongside a planned new site adjacent to the existing council-owned Neasham Road site.

Mr Lee told the inspector that he was currently living on the Neasham Road site, which he likened to a prison, with high fences and no green spaces for his children.

He added: “I don’t want anything handed to me. What I want the council can’t provide anyway – I want my kids to live in a safe place and to wake up with freedom.

“That is my land – I’ve always done everything by the book, I don’t want to pull up on the side of the road like some travellers would.”

Inspector Crosby, who also carried out a site visit at Snipe Lane, will make her decision on the appeal in writing in the coming weeks.