More travellers' sites on the way

An extra 1,200 traveller pitches for the region was approved yesterday - but there were warnings about the cost of providing them and that it might encourage more travellers to move into the area.

An extra 1,200 traveller pitches for the region was approved yesterday - but there were warnings about the cost of providing them and that it might encourage more travellers to move into the area.

The East of England Regional Assembly's planning panel agreed that 1,190 extra pitches would be needed by 2011, despite most responses to the public consultation saying the number was too high. The meeting also heard that ongoing consultation with travellers showed that they thought it would not be enough.

Yesterday's meeting did not make a decision on where the sites should go - the exact location will be down to district councils. But the assembly will decide at its December meeting how many sites each district should take. Norfolk has been identified as needing 92, but could have to provide more. The assembly has said the choice is between “option 1”, providing sites according to need, and “option 2”, spreading them more evenly, with at least 15 new pitches in every district council area - which would involve more pitches for every Norfolk district, except King's Lynn and West Norfolk and South Norfolk, which might get less.

Roy Davis, who chaired the meeting, said: “I get the feeling that people have already dumped option one and gone straight to option two.”

Fenland and Cambridgeshire councillor Martin Curtis said: “I haven't got a problem with 1,190 as a figure but is the government going to fund them or will it be another burden on local authorities? I am concerned it will lead to an influx of travellers into the east of England. There are travellers coming from abroad, especially Ireland, that we potentially are encouraging.”

Essex county councillor Susan Barker also raised concerns about how much the new pitches would cost. She added: “Is this about making unauthorised sites into legitimate sites? Some of the unauthorised sites are on green belt land, which if they are made legitimate, will put pressure on councils to approve other unauthorised development on green belt.”

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Graham Nelson, regional planning and transport manager at Eera, replied: “It has not been taken as read that there will be planning permission for those sites. If the local authority chooses to grant planning permission for unauthorised sites to make them authorised, then they will count towards its allocation.”

After the gipsy and traveller strategy is approved in January, it will be sent to government and go out to another public consultation. Once finalised, local councils will have to provide the number of pitches set out in the strategy.

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