Making provision for Gypsies and Travellers

Councils across the country have a responsibility to provide new Gypsy and Traveller pitches.

We were set a target by Government through the Regional Spatial Strategy to find around an additional 30 pitches for Gypsies and Travellers by 2011.  However, when the new coalition Government came in, the Regional Spatial Strategy was abolished so at the moment there are no set targets.

However, we are completing a thorough assessment of Gypsy and Traveller needs which will be complete at the end of 2010, which will establish how much provision is needed.

Housing legislation also requires every council to review and update its housing need every three years and this must also include an assessment of the needs for Gypsies and Travellers.  It is against these assessments that future pitch requirements will be determined.  

The original target stated that at least 20 of those 30 should be permanent - that's 20 pitches (not 20 sites) that will probably be on a number of sites (not just one big site) for permanent residency of Gypsy and Traveller families.

Since the target was set we've already granted planning permission (including, in one case, through Appeal) for seven new permanent pitches, reducing our remaining shortfall to 13 permanent pitches as of July 2010.The rest, around 10 pitches, will be transit pitches - these are areas designated for travelling families to take up on a temporary basis and then more move on within three months. 

This might happen through Gypsies and Travellers applying for planning permission on pieces of land that they own, through the council obtaining appropriate pieces of land, or through the council applying for planning permission on pieces of land. 

We are required to make provision, but it doesn't mean that all the pitches have to be owned or 'managed' by the council - we simply have to make sure there are another 23 additional pitches that have planning permission for use by Gypsies and Travellers.

23 new pitches is a relatively small number in comparison to the number of new houses we are required to give permission for (around 16,600) and in comparison to the requirements on other districts.


Why is it important to provide for Gypsies and Travellers?

Not only do we have a statutory responsibility to make provision for Gypsy and Traveller pitches, but it also makes sense: 

  • Without lawful sites there could be more occurrences of Gypsy and Traveller settlements and encampments on land that does not have planning permission.
  •  Some Gypsies and Travellers have set up home on land belonging to others or on land that does not have planning permission. As a result, but also in line with the Government requirement, it is a sensible and responsible approach to begin looking at how we can expand provision.
  • The cost of providing Gypsy and Traveller pitches can also be far less than costs incurred by taking enforcement action against unlawful settlements and encampments.
  •  Providing Gypsy and Traveller pitches will inevitably make things run more smoothly when travelling communities move in and out of the area - we will be able to direct Gypsies and Travellers who have temporarily occupied inappropriate land to the transit pitches which will have facilities for them and the required permissions.
  • It allows the people of South Somerset to engage in the planning process - we are able to pro-actively select and consider sites, and allow residents a say in the consultation process. The other option would be to do nothing, but Gypsies and Travellers would still want to reside here and planning applications then tend to come in on an opportunistic, haphazard basis on sites that may not be as suitable. If the Council has failed to make the required provision it will be in a weaker position when defending a decision to refuse planning permission on an inappropriate site at appeal.
  • Across England, £18m of taxpayers' money is spent each year and every year just moving Gypsies and Travellers on from one inappropriate location to another.  The result is a cycle of deprivation that is never broken.  Access to Health services is denied, access to Education is minimal and access to employment almost non-existent.  In South Somerset we are determined to break that cycle both for the Travelling community who have no legal place to stop and for the interests of the settled community. 


How will we find suitable pitches?

Last year we (along with Somerset's four other district and borough councils) undertook a piece of work to identify available areas of land currently in public ownership.

The assessment - which aimed to create an 'inventory' of available public land in the area - helped us form an idea of what land there is, and where there is the potential for accommodation in the future.

We are now beginning to look at some of those pieces of land that may also be suitable for Gypsy and Traveller pitches.

It is very likely that many of those options will be unsuitable, in planning terms. The work that lies ahead involves evaluating all the areas of public land that have the potential to meet need and consider whether to test the suitability through a planning application.

We will also consider private pieces of land that have been put forward to the council by landowners who have indicated they may be willing to work with us.

We are very conscious that this subject is a very sensitive but necessary one, and we want to assure people that when we get to the stage of submitting a planning application, the public will be widely and fully consulted as for any other planning application.