“It is the responsibility of local planning authorities to make their own assessment of need for both permanent and transit site provision and to identify land to meet this need in their local plan.”

Have the tables turned on Rochford District Council after the Conservative-led Council had dragged its heels on the provision of a permanent travellers site in the District?

In a recent development committee meeting, the Council refused the proposition of a new industrial site bringing the potential of hundreds of jobs after it had made noises about bringing forward the original plans for the site allocation GT1, in the core strategy.

Sympathy is waning from me on this as the issue has been dodged by successive leaders at the local authority and the portfolio holder responsible has remained silent on addressing the issues about the frequent illegal traveller incursions that cause residents hell, the multiple illegal (now temporary) traveller sites on private land and any progress on the legal site provision.

I urged the Council to show how serious it is about the traveller site with the provision of budget to realistically be able to afford to bring forward the site, now it has temporarily blocked the developer from building further commercial premises. I remain pessimistic about the Councils actions.

A minister has resisted calls in Parliament to force local authorities to provide sites for Traveller communities, arguing a previous attempt “simply didn’t work”.

Councils were best placed to make decisions on provision, said Tory frontbencher Lord Greenhalgh.

The Conservative peer faced pressure at Westminster for the Government to go further to ensure there were enough pitches, given moves to tackle unauthorised encampments.

It has been warned that measures contained in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would unfairly impact Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities.

Pressed in the House of Lords on the availability of sites, Lord Greenhalgh said: “The Government does not undertake an assessment on the availability of places for nomadic Gypsies and Travellers to stop.

“It is the responsibility of local planning authorities to make their own assessment of need for both permanent and transit site provision and to identify land to meet this need in their local plan.

“Authorities are best placed to make decisions about the number of locations of sites locally.”

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville said: “If every local authority provided permanent and transit sites serviced with water, sanitation and waste disposal, families would have somewhere to bring up their children, get them into school and look after their elderly.

“Why does the Government not help them to do this by enforcing the responsibility for local authorities to provide sites?”

Lord Greenhalgh said: “There are no plans to bring in statutory provision.

“The previous introduction of a statutory duty simply didn’t work.

“We will continue to encourage local authorities to fulfil their duties under their local plans.”

Liberal Democrat Baroness Brinton said: “It seems extraordinary at a time when this Government is proposing to criminalise Gypsy and Traveller families who can’t find authorised encampment pitches, that they are not doing more than encourage local authorities to fulfil their duties.

“Please will the Government reconsider that and ensure local authorities do provide enough sites for the community?”

Lord Greenhalgh said that over the last decade there had been an increase in the number of permanent pitches and latest figures showed of the available transit pitches, more than a third were vacant.

He also said there was “a very high bar” before action would be taken under the legislation.

The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said areas such as Leeds and Durham had trialled a model of negotiated stopping.

She said: “This is where there is an agreement between Traveller communities, local authorities and other agencies which allow temporary stopping on sites having discussed the duration of their stay and sometimes contribution towards costs.

“Will the Government consider implementing a negotiated stopping programme across the country to enable this community to retain their cultural identity?”

Lord Greenhalgh said he had encouraged the use of negotiated stopping by local authorities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added: “Negotiated stopping sites avoids the need for enforcement of unauthorised encampments through the courts. We think it is a great way forward, but it also a matter for local authorities. We will continue to encourage them to use this.”


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About the author 

James Newport

Essex County Councillor for Rayleigh North, Rochford District Councillor for Downhall & Rawreth and Rayleigh Town Councillor for Sweyne.

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