Caravan pitches on increase in county

More than 500 extra caravan pitches must be found over the next five years to accommodate the growing numbers of travellers in the west of the region, according to a new study.

More than 500 extra caravan pitches must be found over the next five years to accommodate the growing numbers of travellers in the west of the region, according to a new study.

The report, which involved nine local authorities including Fenland, Forest Heath in Suffolk and West Norfolk, was commissioned to look specifically at accommodation and service needs of the travelling community.

And it estimates that about 200 extra pitches will be required in Fenland and 60 in West Norfolk over the next five years as it has one of the largest populations of travellers in the country.

Under housing legislation, local authorities are now required by government to undertake a specific assessment of the accommodation needs of gipsies and travellers in their districts - and this must form part of their local housing strategies.

The report, which took more than a year to compile, will now shape future services for the travelling community in the Cambridge sub-region - the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire fenlands.

The study was unveiled at a launch yesterday which brought together researchers, travellers and representatives from a consortium of local authorities in East Anglia.

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Councils will look at establishing new sites for travellers and this could also include granting planning permission on existing unauthorised sites, and the sale of council land for private traveller sites.

As part of the report, 313 members of the travelling community were interviewed to give a unique insight into their lives and needs.

The report revealed that caravan numbers in the region have doubled in the last 25 years from 800 to 1,600.

The report said: "The survey interviews confirmed that there is a pressing need for more sites of all kinds (public and private, long stay and transit). Gipsies/travellers would prefer small self-owned long-stay sites for family groups, on the end of a village and near established gipsy communities."

It also recommends developing a sub-regional or county level group to bring together councils and the travelling community.

It says the role of the group will be to "focus particularly on reducing the shortfall of authorised accommodation, agreeing a mix of sites between districts public and private and improving relations between gipsy and settled communities."

Lord Avebury, a champion of the travelling communities, welcomed the report and described the conclusions as a win-win situation in which everyone would benefit.

And Bridie Jones, a member of the Irish travellers movement, said: "The report is very important and it is the first time the travelling community has been consulted."

The survey findings will now be used by individual authorities to help decide and plan future services for the travelling community - including sites, education, health and welfare support.