Providing accommodation for gypsies and travellers is a legal requirement that the council must meet through its Local Plan

Second phase of public consultation on gypsy and traveller accommodation now underway

A second phase of public consultation on East Devon District Council’s Gypsy and Traveller Plan has now begun. The consultation, which began on 6 November and concludes on 4 January 2016, includes a Call for Sites – in the form of an invitation to all landowners and to anyone else from across the area to submit details of sites in East Devon, which they feel would be suitable for gypsy and traveller accommodation. Part of this latest consultation is a review of the process and factors used for assessing suggested sites.

Providing accommodation for gypsies and travellers is a legal requirement that the council must meet through its Local Plan and a study commissioned by East Devon District Council in partnership with other Devon Authorities, showed that there is a need for 37 additional gypsy and traveller pitches. One option would be to include up to 30 pitches at Cranbrook – though the council wishes to look at other possibilities as well, not just Cranbrook.

If the council can find better sites elsewhere within the district then the numbers for Cranbrook will be lower. It all depends on the responses that the council receives for this consultation. However, Cranbrook has been identified as a suitable area for a number of reasons, including the fact that it is close to the main transport routes used by gypsies and travellers (M5 and A30) and that because it is in the early stages of development, there is scope to undertake early planning work on considering site options.

Should insufficient sites be put forward by landowners, then the council will consider using compulsory purchase orders (CPO)as a means to acquire suitable sites. A CPO enables acquiring authorities to compulsorily buy land to carry out a function, which Parliament has decided is in the public interest. The Council can also look at sites that are for general sale and land that it owns.

Funding for sites

Back in June, councillors approved allocating £500,000 to purchase one or more gypsy and traveller sites,. Potentially this could be funded by borrowing from council reserves or savings or there may be funding available from the Homes and Communities Agency Affordable Housing Programme. Further sources of finance available to the council include a New Homes Bonus (£6,000-£6350 per pitch upon occupation), and grants from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

East Devon believes there is no reason why its own sites should not be financially viable and provide a solid income, which together with grants and the New Homes Bonus would enable a significant part of the £500,000 loan to be paid.

Suitability of sites

The sites that are put forward will be assessed through a formal two-stage assessment approach, involving specific criteria against which potential sites will be measured for suitability. However, this is not a rigid one-size-fits-all formula and individual sites will be looked at on a case by case basis.

The main need in East Devon is for permanent pitches, which provide a base for gypsy and traveller families to return to when they are not travelling. A pitch is a unit of accommodation for a single gypsy or traveller family. Needs vary depending on the size of a family, so an average permanent family pitch would usually comprise an amenity building, a large trailer and touring caravan, parking space for two vehicles and a small garden area.

The public has been invited to comment on the process and criteria set out within the draft Site Assessment Methodology document, which (subject to any revisions caused by the consultation) will be used to assess any sites submitted for consideration. However, sites that are found to be suitable, will still be subject to public consultation.

As a result of the previous consultation,the council has already received suggestions for several sites and these will be followed up using the Assessment Methodology.

Through a letter, the council has also invited the public to comment on the Sustainability Appraisal (SA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) scoping report, which considers the issues to be taken into account in producing the assessment of the Gypsy and Traveller Plan.

Gypsy and Traveller provision in Cranbrook

Commenting on the latest Gypsy and Traveller Plan consultation, Councillor Paul Diviani, Leader of East Devon District Council, said:

Contrary to popular belief, we are looking for suitable gypsy and traveller sites across the whole of the district, not just Cranbrook and we will consider fully all the options before any decisions are made and before allocating any pitches to Cranbrook. The search process that we are undertaking will ultimately decide how many pitches there will be in Cranbrook.

We understand the concerns of local communities, including Cranbrook, about perceived issues with gypsies and traveller provision within communities. However, evidence from around the country suggests that by making adequate provision on lawful, well-designed and managed sites, we can minimise the risk of unauthorised encampments and put appropriate management arrangements in place.

Most of the need for accommodation is caused by overcrowding on existing sites, as new families are formed. But pitches are also needed for families who are living on unauthorised sites and for those who are in temporary housing.

The responsibility for making sure that our Local Plan is sound lies with us, so these consultations – while being preliminary steps in plan preparation – are essential in order that we have the best available evidence and information to inform our future work.

How to respond

Responses on the three matters can be emailed to: localplan@eastdevon.gov.uk or sent to: Planning Policy Section, East Devon District Council, Knowle, Station Road, Sidmouth EX10 8HL and marked either Gypsy and Traveller Site Assessment Methodology or Gypsy and Traveller Site Assessment Methodology or Gypsy and Traveller SA/SEA Scoping Report.

Definitions

Site – a site can generally be defined as a parcel of land on which pitches can be accommodated.

Pitch - A pitch is a unit of accommodation for a single gypsy or traveller family. As with the settled community family sizes and accommodation needs vary, but an average permanent family pitch would usually comprise an amenity building, a large trailer and touring caravan, parking space for two vehicles and a small garden area.

How many pitches can there be on a site? - Best practice suggests that there should be a maximum of 15 pitches on any one site.

We also have to try and assess the different groupings within the gypsy and traveller community as different traditions do not always mix well.

When designing and laying out sites we need to ensure that those of similar backgrounds and beliefs are located together and potential for conflict between groups is designed out.