Chesterfield anti-racism campaigners say YES! To proposed new Traveller pitches
Two new Traveller pitches proposed by Chesterfield Borough Council have been given a resounding thumbs-up by Chesterfield & North Derbyshire’s Stand Up to Racism campaigners.
A post on the group’s Facebook page said that the group supported Chesterfield Borough Councils decision to provide additional sites and that “travellers are welcome here”.
“We were very pleased to be joined by some of the Labour Councillors,” they added.
Chesterfield Borough Council is currently made up of 37 Labour Party councillors, 9 Liberal Democrat Party councillors, and 2 independent councillors.
The campaigners took to the steps of Chesterfield Town Hall earlier this week to show their support for the recently published council plans to find two new sites for two pitches. The council is now holding a public consultation which will help them to find out where to put them.
Pitch sizes can vary from 500 to 2,000 square metres and must be capable of containing a single storey building, a large trailer and touring caravan, parking space for two vehicles and a small garden area where families can stay on a long-term basis. There is a dire shortage of legal private and public Traveller sites in the UK. Leading nation Gypsy and Traveller charity Friends, Families and Travellers, have said that the government is failing to address this.
Councillor Terry Gilby, Chesterfield Borough Council’s cabinet member for economic growth, said: “Our cabinet is being asked to approve what would be the first of several stages of public consultation and involvement before a final decision is made.
“By identifying new sites where Gypsies and Travellers can stay legally, the Government hopes the number of illegal encampments can be reduced, which can cause disruption to local residents and cost tax payers’ money to clean up sites that have been used.”
Gypsies and Travellers staying on council sites of this type pay Council Tax and other utility bills as any other property in the area.
However, Councillor Gilby warned that there may be many hoops to jump through before the pitches where built and Gypsy and Traveller families could move on and live there.
Councillor Gilby added: “Following the consultation we may identify up to two sites to put forward to provide proposed Gypsy and Traveller pitches in the Local Plan. This will then be examined at a public planning inquiry by an independent planning inspector where the public will be able to give their views.
“Any site would also require planning permission, which would also involve a further public consultation before a decision is made.”
Traveller planning site applications often run into opposition from local politicians and well organised groups of local residents. The Travellers’ Times believes that local campaigners supporting the provision of legal Traveller sites are very important in opposing the sometimes racist views of anti-site protest groups. Local Gypsies and Travellers can often feel threatened and isolated by the controversy that surrounds Traveller site planning applications.
The Travellers’ Times recently spoke to Romany Gypsies living in Conwy, North Wales, who were the target of an anti-site demonstration. They told us that the experience had shaken them, but that they had formed their own residents and campaign group and the experience had made them even more determined to fight for decent homes.
Chesterfield Labour MP Toby Perkins has commented on Chesterfield Council’s plans for more pitches. He said that he understands that “local residents” would be “angry” if the Traveller pitches were built on council land near where they lived and that he would share their concerns if the sites were built in his street.
However, he appeared to support the building of the pitches saying that they would cut down on “temporary illegal sites” which he said had cost Chesterfield Council lots of money in legal and clear up fees.
"I will be stressing to the council the need to recognise the concerns of local people and consider which site will have the lowest impact on the community. It is important to remember that there will be a six-week public consultation, which is still only the first step in a long planning and public enquiry process, and everyone will get the chance to have their say,” said Toby Perkins MP.
"I am also aware that many people have noticed that the sites shortlisted by the council are all in what might be considered to be more deprived communities,” he added.
“It is not true, as some have suggested, that these are all a long way from councillors' homes; indeed, in several cases councillors live near to the sites suggested. But it is the fact that the majority of council garage sites are on council estates and for that reason they are the sites that have been identified.”
Toby Perkins MP was one of 36 MPs who recently signed a controversial parliamentary statement calling for more police and legal powers to evict unauthorised Traveller camps.
Leeds City Council are one of a few English councils who have adopted a different method of engaging with unauthorised camps which is similar to an award winning Leeds Gypsy and Traveller charity’s (Leeds GATE) ‘negotiated stopping’ system. Negotiated stopping saved Leeds council tax payers a quarter of a million pounds in clear up and legal fees over three years and vastly reduced community tensions between mobile Traveller groups and local settled residents.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also supported the adoption of negotiated stopping type solutions by London borough councils after campaigning by London Gypsies and Travellers.
Negotiated stopping has been described by campaigners as a “no brainer” as it saves money and avoids the costly ‘evict, evict, evict zero tolerance’ approach. Every time a council evicts a mobile Traveller group with nowhere to go they immediately create another unauthorised camp down the road, they say.
Negotiated stopping is seen by campaigners as a solution for unauthorised camps and for temporary solutions for local Traveller groups who have nowhere else to go. It is not seen as an alternative to the lack of legal permanent sites.
By Mike Doherty/TT News
Main photo (c) James Eaden