Background to Gypsies and Travellers

The travelling community has been a traditional part of rural life in South Somerset and across the region for hundreds of years.

Historically, Gypsies and Travellers have lived comparatively peacefully alongside other local households.

Traditionally Gypsy families moved within a relatively small geographic area linked to employment and historic stopping places thus in the rural areas most have strong local connections albeit not respecting county boundaries.

We already manage two permanent Gypsy and Traveller sites, one at Chubbards Cross, Ilton with six pitches and one at Marsh Lane, Tintinhull with eight pitches, which were transferred from Somerset County Council in 2002.  The majority of residents are established local families.

The loss of traditional employment opportunities and legal stopping places has forced a change in lifestyle and the need to have a secure place to reside has become paramount. 

For many, the cultural aversion to "bricks and mortar" as an accommodation solution, remains a strong factor, so we still need to make provision through pitches rather than houses, flats or bungalows.

Having legitimate sites enables the Gypsy and Traveller community to gain vital access to education, health facilities and employment.  At the same time it enables an element of integration with the local community. It is a requirement that we ensure a certain amount of provision for Gypsy and Traveller pitches, both residential and transit.

Not only are we required to make provision, but it also makes sense to do so - without lawful sites there will inevitably be more occurrences of Gypsy and Traveller settlements and encampments on land that does not have planning permission. 

Unauthorised developments and inappropriate encampments cause serious community tensions. Often they have an adverse affect on the local environment, the land, on local communities, and a knock-on effect for the council which is responsible for enforcing planning law. 

With more than 4,000 Gypsy and Traveller families across the UK who have no legal place to stop, South Somerset is determined to facilitate meeting the accommodation needs of those families who have traditionally resided or resorted to our district and in doing so minimising costs to the council taxpayer that are generated from the problems associated with unplanned and unauthorised encampments.

 


Our approach to Gypsies and Travellers

We have a policy of firm and fair toleration and works to maintain a better understanding between the travelling community and local agencies, communities and individuals.  It has long been at the forefront of working closely with Regional and National Government Departments in shaping future policy.  At present it is directly involved with Ministers within the Coalition Government in the formulation of new initiatives aimed at resolving the long standing difficulties associated with meeting the needs of the Gypsy and Traveller community.

It is an issue that receives much attention, from councillors, local people, media and staff.

We are working hard to: 

  • Enforce planning controls fairly and consistently.
  • Improve relations between local households and travelling people.
  • Improve understanding of the issues by awareness raising events held within individual communities through the parish councils.  
  • Work with parish councils and local councillors, as well as local people, in addressing these issues. 

Some of the things we have to consider are: 

  • Upholding the rights of all local residents and Gypsies and Travellers to live peacefully and safely, with mutual respect for the rights of others
  • Applying planning policy fairly and firmly in relation to Gypsy and Traveller sites
  • Engaging with Gypsies and Travellers and the local community in order to make available appropriate and authorised Gypsy and Traveller sites - identifying suitable additional sites, where necessary, and accommodating the service needs of travelling people, wherever possible
  • Giving full consideration to proposed private sites when Gypsies and Travellers approach the council in advance about their proposals and supporting them as appropriate.
  • Safeguarding and defending the local environment, local facilities and services from issues flowing from unlawful and unplanned Gypsy and Traveller encampments and developments
  • Promoting greater community cohesion between the settled and travelling communities. 

There are many aspects we have to balance and we face some difficult decisions as we try to strike a fair middle position between potentially conflicting demands.