Less than one in six councils meet government targets on Traveller site supply
Less than one in six councils are meeting the Government’s target on Traveller site supply in the south east of England says a shocking new report by a national Gypsy and Traveller charity.
Friends Families and Travellers (FFT), based in Brighton, used Freedom of Information laws to investigate whether councils were hitting the targets set by the Department for Communities and Local Government to identify a supply of deliverable sites sufficient for the next 5 years.
An FFT spokesperson said that the results of their research showed that the government’s “mechanism” to ensure more legal sites for Gypsies and Travellers “is not working” and leading to a cycle of evictions of unauthorised Traveller sites and camps.
The government’s new Planning Policy for Traveller Sites – which has been heavily criticised by campaigners for its change of the definition ‘gypsy status’, – does at least require councils to plan five years ahead and find enough potential land for Gypsies and Travellers in their area to live on. However this requirement falls short of a statutory – or legal – duty forcing councils to comply.
“Our research clearly highlights the mechanism to ensure more sites for Gypsies and Travellers are provided in the immediate future is not working,” said FFT.
“In the meanwhile Gypsies and Travellers continue to be evicted from one place to the next.”
“This has a huge impact on Gypsies and Travellers and means families cannot access healthcare, education and other services. These chronically excluded communities become even more vulnerable as a result of the constant cycle of evictions.”
FFT sent Freedom of Information Requests to the 66 local authorities in the South East of England in May and June earlier this year. Their research found that only 10 local authorities had identified a five year supply of specific deliverable sites, and that five local authorities had no identified need for new sites.
The research also found that up to 2033 a total of 1745 additional pitches – a space for one or two caravans - are needed in the South East of England.
FFT said that the government needed to monitor councils’ compliance with planning policy and the law.
“We carried out this research because the government does not currently collect this data centrally,” said an FFT spokesperson.
FFT called on the government to follow the lead of the Welsh government and introduce a statutory duty on councils to meet the assessed accommodation need of Gypsies and Travellers.
In March 2016, the Welsh Assembly passed into law the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 which includes a legal requirement for Welsh councils to meet their set targets for site provision. The Welsh Housing Act also does not use the new controversial ‘gypsy status’ – adopted by the English government - as a definition of who is counts as a Gypsy or Traveller for the purposes of Traveller site planning.
FFT told the Travellers’ Times that similar research was being completed or had already been done by other Gypsy and Traveller organisations in the Midlands and in London.
Councils and police across the UK have been meeting this summer to discuss the rising numbers of unauthorised Traveller camps, yet according to campaigners, the solution of finding land for more authorised transit and permanent pitches – both for public and private development - is often not on the agenda.
Betty Billington, a spokesperson for Dorset Inter-Agency Concern for Travellers (DIACT), a local Gypsy and Traveller organisation based in Bournemouth, told The Travellers Times that their council – supported by their local MP - refused to recognise that more legal authorised transit and permanent pitches where needed and instead relied on evictions of unauthorised camps, despite lobbying by DIACT and the Gypsy Council.
“Even the local police and Police and Crime Commissioner agrees with us,” she said. “More pitches are needed to tackle the issue of unauthorised camps.”