Traveller pitches plan for East Anglia

More than a thousand extra pitches for gipsies and travellers should be provided across the East of England, planning chiefs will say today.A key meeting in Cambridge will discuss a proposal to provide 1,190 extra traveller pitches - spaces for a family with one or two caravans - across the region's six counties.

More than a thousand extra pitches for gipsies and travellers should be provided across the East of England, planning chiefs will say today.

A key meeting in Cambridge will discuss a proposal to provide 1,190 extra traveller pitches - spaces for a family with one or two caravans - across the region's six counties.

But last night MPs warned that the figure was too high and did not take account of the feelings of local people.

The results of a public consultation, which will be presented to the meeting of the East of England Regional Assembly's planning panel today, show that most respondents thought the estimate of the extra pitches needed was wrong.

Many of those thought the figure was too high, a few, mostly traveller groups, thought it was too low, and many believe more research is needed.

The proposal is for 92 new pitches in Norfolk, with 53 in King's Lynn and West Norfolk, 18 in South Norfolk, 13 in Breckland, six in Norwich and two in Yarmouth. In Suffolk the proposed number of new pitches is 110, and Cambridgeshire it is 388, of which 180 are needed in Fenland alone.

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North-west Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham, whose constituency is likely to see the greatest increase in traveller pitches in Norfolk under the proposals, said: “I don't thing we need any increases in the numbers. I would look at a few small increases in existing sites. New sites are incredibly controversial and very unpopular indeed. To expect residents to accept a large number of new sites is just not realistic.”

Over the next few months, the East of England Regional Assembly (Eera) will decide in what areas the new sites should be located: starting with today's planning panel in Cambridge, with more decisions on December 12, which will be presented to the government for approval in January.

Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson said: “We need a tremendous amount more information. This is something quite important and needs to be debated. Who is going to pay for this? It will probably be the local taxpayer.

“Rightly or wrongly, it will produce some negative feelings in local communities. I know only too well the feeling in Reepham when the old Whitwell station was proposed as a traveller site - this produced very negative reaction. The danger of the way the regional assembly is going about this is that it will produce headlines which will produce considerable negative feeling locally.”

Proposed traveller sites have already caused controversy in Fakenham, Harleston and Thetford in the past year, as did the long-running illegal site in Denton, near Bungay.

In Fakenham, residents held a referendum which was overwhelmingly against a proposed site on the edge of town.

The big decision for Eera is whether to distribute new pitches according to existing need, or whether to spread them evenly across the region. Most district councils, which will actually have to provide the sites, agreed with the total figure proposed, but are split on where. Those which have greatest need for new pitches - and most members of the public - say they should be divided equally, but

Breckland, Broadland, North Norfolk and Norwich councils all want pitches to be located according to need. Fenland Council said distributing pitches evenly was the right strategy, while South Norfolk thought a middle way between the two options was best.

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