Local authorities have a range of opportunities for funding traveller sites. These include the government’s New Homes Bonus, paid in recognition of net increases of effective housing stock (including the provision of traveller sites) and the Affordable Homes Programme. The permanent establishment of gypsy and traveller pitches also qualifies under the Public Land for Housing Programme.
The number of traveller caravans on authorised camp sites rose by 32% between July 2010 and July 2017, to 19,071, due to the success of the planning process, according to the government, and which it says illustrates that local planning authorities are having an impact.
The Department for Communities and Local Government, said: “This government has given councils a range of powers to tackle unauthorised development. At the same time, alongside providing billions of funding for housing, we have also provided £60 million of funding to support authorised traveller sites where they have community support.”
However, in November 2017 it was reported that in England, only half of councils had created any pitches since 2012, and nearly 50 had no pitches at all. In the five years to December 2016, councils said they received nearly £27 million in Traveller Pitch Funding from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and in total spent nearly £35 million in the delivery of new pitches.
Coventry City Council successfully bid for funding in 2013 and received over £1 million but, due to “insufficient time to complete the works”, the authority said it had to return the cash to the HCA.
Despite the increase of authorised traveller sites, 16% of all caravans in the year to July 2017 were located on unauthorised sites and, earlier this year, the government consulted on dealing with unauthorised development and encampments. As we await the results of the consultation, we look at the cost to local authorities and how unauthorised camps impact the local community.
Cost to local authorities
Local authorities and the police already have a range of powers available to them to deal with unauthorised development and encampments, but concerns are often voiced by local communities. Many of us will be familiar with the sudden overnight appearance of caravans and tents on public land, including playing fields, beaches, car parks and playgrounds. The practice often results in damage to land and property, litter and waste, noise and antisocial behaviour and, in some cases, loss of revenue.
The requirement for local authorities to provide traveller sites and the availability of funding hasn’t prevented some councils from paying out large sums providing new – temporary – traveller sites.
North Devon and Torridge District Councils have a budget of £600,000 to provide a permanent traveller site but, despite spending £30,000 on assessments and planning consultation, are yet to identify a suitable site. A further £7,000 was spent on infrastructure for one temporary site which was unused when the decision to use it was overturned. Heavy opposition was received from local communities which oppose the proposed sites which were near settled developments and local beauty and tourist spots.
Police reported to Hampshire’s Silchester Parish Council that it was commonplace for travellers to commence activity on land that had been sold to an individual traveller and no planning permission was in place – only to apply for retrospective planning after completion of the work.
Denbighshire, in North Wales, spent £36,000 in court costs and nearly £13,000 in cleaning and security after 33 incidents of unauthorised traveller camping in the area.
Cleaning up Solihull’s parks cost the borough over £100,000 in the 18 months to 2018. One of the chosen sites was located adjacent to homes valued at over a million pounds.
All local authorities have a duty to provide new or refurbished pitches for travellers across England, as part of a package of measures to deal with unauthorised travellers and the subsequent abuses of the planning system.
Friends, Families and Travellers, the national charity working on behalf of Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, has called for every local authority to allocate suitable land in its Local Plan where gypsies and travellers can legally stop.
Contact your local Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors registered Chartered Surveyor for an independent home survey or building survey in Devon, Hampshire, Coventry, Solihull or elsewhere in England or Wales.