Gipsy sites for rural areas idea

Traveller sites in South Norfolk should not have to be located next to towns and villages, according to a new report.

Traveller sites in South Norfolk should not have to be located next to towns and villages, according to a new report.

The draft paper on local development for gipsies and travellers says that it is acceptable for new sites to be in the countryside, but not in environmentally sensitive areas, such as sites of special scientific interest or conservation areas.

Next Monday South Norfolk Council's cabinet meets to discuss the issues and options paper. After public consultation, it will become part of the local development framework at the end of the year and will set out the criteria for much-needed traveller sites in the district. It sets out a choice, in which the public can have a say, between looking all over South Norfolk for suitable sites or only looking in areas where travellers actually want to live - along the A11 and A47 corridors and along the A143 through the Waveney valley.

But the paper rules out locating sites in environmentally sensitive areas, and also rules out only locating sites in or near towns and villages. It says that government advice says "rural settings are acceptable in principle".

The council is also applying for government funding for a full-time "community cohesion officer" to help defuse some of the tensions that have arisen between travellers and the settled community.

Recent planning disputes in Harleston and nearby Denton in particular have aroused strong feelings.

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The council also announced last week that it was setting up think-tanks on how to improve community relations. The council is likely to hear next month whether it has been given funding for the new post.

Phil Waltham, councillor with responsibility for the environment and planning, said that the think-tanks would not duplicate the work of the community cohesion officer.

"Whereas the think-tanks will involve people from the various local areas, the community cohesion officer will have responsibility for the whole district. We hope the officer will help deal with the kind of problems travellers face when interfacing with the local community."

He added: "South Norfolk Council is genuinely concerned about the situation that has arisen which is largely because the planning system includes a number of hurdles which have to be passed before a site can be established.

"We are especially concerned that travelling families should have as much access to services and a positive lifestyle as other members of the community. I am extremely concerned to see travellers in fields with few facilities where there is no support or care. It is part of our duty in the settled community to make provision for them."