Research from the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain (ITMB) has claimed that less than half of the Government’s proposed 620 new gypsy and traveller pitches will actually be built before 2015, a fact which they claim will exacerbate the ‘dire shortage’ of sites and make a new Dale Farm scenario ‘inevitable’.
The research follows announcements by the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency of grants of £47m for 170 improved and 620 new pitches across the country. But Michael Hargreaves, author of the research, claims that less than 300 of this number will actually be in existence by 2015, at which time he fears funding will be withdrawn.
Mr Hargreaves is reported to have commented:
“The mass eviction at Dale Farm in Essex was a direct result of the dire shortage of authorised pitches and created incredible tensions between the Traveller and settled communities. Yet the HCA funding programme, as it stands, can only make a future Dale Farm inevitable.”
Eric Pickles, the Secretary for Communities and Local Government, has conversely claimed that the funding will reduce the number of unauthorised traveller sites, which create such tension between the travelling and settled communities. A spokesman for his department added:
“Ministers are clear that the previous top-down targets for Traveller sites forced councils to encroach on the Green Belt, seriously harming community relations, leading to an increase in the number of unauthorised sites and meaning site funding was allocated, but often left unspent.
“That’s why we’ve allocated £47m towards the building of 620 new pitches, with more funding to follow. Councils will also get powerful financial benefits for building authorised sites that have the backing of the local community, through the New Homes Bonus.”
Nonetheless, the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain’s research has indicated a potential misallocation of much of this money, with only 4% going to the counties of Essex, Kent, Cambridgeshire, Surrey, and Hertfordshire which contain the most travelling communities. That 4% is, the ITMB claims, actually just for two projects in Cambridgeshire and Kent, which don’t have designated sites or planning permission.
The planning issue is being touted as perhaps the greatest barrier to the 620 possible new projects, Mr Hargreaves commented:
“Ministers have encouraged communities to think if they don’t want to accommodate Travellers, they don’t have to,” says Mr Hargreaves. “Yet our research shows that over 80% of those that have received funding for proposed schemes don’t have planning permission, which is notoriously difficult to push through in the face of local opposition. Some schemes don’t even have a designated site.”
The research was presented on Thursday 22nd March to a conference attended by ministers from the Department for Communities and Local Government. Whether it will dissuade the Government from its current course, however, remains to be seen.
The Government has also released plans, parallel to the National Planning Policy Framework, to reduce the planning policy for traveller sites from 54 pages down to just 8, including all but banning traveller sites on green belt land. Read our article in this month’s newsletter here.