How are we assessing the needs of Gypsies and Travellers?

A unique approach to a Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA) is taking place in Somerset, with members of the local travelling community being trained as community interviewers.

As part of the legally required GTAA, a survey is being carried out targeting a representative sample of the Gypsy and Traveller population in Somerset. To ensure a successful survey, members of the Gypsy and Traveller community have been trained as community interviewers by De Montfort University.

De Montfort University, who have been commissioned to carry out the countywide GTAA, have devised detailed questionnaires, which will be completed in 2010.  The survey, much wider and more detailed than previously undertaken  will determine:

  • The size of the Gypsy and Traveller community within Somerset
  • Travelling habits
  • Employment issues
  • Access to healthcare, education and other public services
  • Number of pitches required
  • Need and preferences for sites and emergency stopping places needed
  • Aspirations to move in, or out, of bricks and mortar.

Focus groups involving members of the travelling community will also take place during the survey period. These will continue to explore issues such as health, education, housing related support and will also focus on community empowerment.

Cllr Ric Pallister, Portfolio holder for Environmental Health, Housing and Planning Policy, comments that, "Gypsies and Travellers are a minority group who have been a part of this area of Somerset for many hundreds of years. 

"Despite cultural, ethnic and lifestyle differences from the settled community they are nevertheless our residents who have a right to be here and a right to follow their traditional way of life and values.  To attempt to break their culture or deny their unique ethnicity would be wrong.  This is the most comprehensive survey of their health, education, employment and accommodation needs ever carried out.

"We have a duty to assist this community as it attempts to adjust to the most significant changes that have impacted on them over the past 50 years.  Once completed, the survey will mean that we are better placed to ensure that their needs are met and in a way that will enable their ethnicity and cultural identity to be fully recognised and kept alive, whilst promoting this in harmony with the settled community.

"We are not blinkered, I do not see the world through rose tinted glasses and it isn't going to be easy, but then most things that are worthwhile are not easy.  We will work to proactively ensure that successful integration is achieved.

"Our role is to break down the prejudices and barriers that exist. We have a legal obligation to provide pitches for Gypsies and Travellers and it is in everyone's interest that we succeed."

The Somerset GTAA is underway and the assessment is expected to be completed in October 2010.

Our Spatial Policy Manager and Chairman of the Project Group overseeing the production of the GTAA said "The Local Authorities and other organisations on the Project Group are committed to working with the Gypsy and Traveller communities to produce accurate and meaningful survey findings. The extended period of the survey (to October 2010) reflects the need to catch different sections of these communities as they visit at different times of year.

"De Montfort University, the Consultants commissioned after competitive tender to undertake the survey, are experienced in such work and are actively surveying at the present time.

"To date the project has gone well and is proceeding to plan with positive engagement from the Gypsy and Traveller representatives on the Project Group."

Once the GTAA has been produced it will be the responsibility of the five Somerset district councils to ensure provision for Gypsies and Travellers in their Local Development Framework (LDF). 

The framework will set out the number of pitches needed in each district and identify sites to deliver this need through a specific Development Planning Document. All district councils are currently engaged on producing Core Strategies which must precede such specific Development Planning Documents and must set out planning criteria by which planning applications for Gypsy sites will be determined

Government guidance issued in February 2006 requires council's to assess Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA), whilst recognising, protecting and facilitating the traditional way of the life of Gypsies and Travellers, whilst also respecting the interests of the settled community.

An increase in appropriate accommodation provision and choice for Gypsies and Travellers throughout Somerset is likely to be one of the main benefits from the GTAA.

The issue surrounding a community that has existed in the British Isles since the late 1400s will not be resolved by employing a "do nothing approach".  The cycle of deprivation still afflicting many in the Gypsy and Traveller community will continue. 

£18m will continue to be wasted year on year and the tensions between the Travelling community and the settled community will continue.  It is for these reasons that our policies will continue to be aimed at making provision to meet the needs of this community just as we do for those in need of affordable housing.