Concern over Traveller sites

MOVES to take decisions on providing Gypsy and and Traveller pitches out of local control are causing concern.

The number of pitches needed in Hertfordshire will total more than 176 by 2011 according to proposals which are due to get the green light next week.

The proposals have caused a stir with county and local councillors, and have been labelled as "rough-shod riding".

On Monday Hertford and Stortford MP Mark Prisk challenged the government to "make a statement on the provision of sites for Travellers and Gypsies in Hertfordshire."

Iain Wright MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, said: "The Government recognise the need to address the on-going shortfall in permanent and transit sites for Gypsies and Travellers."

He added: "The East of England regional assembly is preparing an alteration to the regional spatial strategy for the East of England, which we understand is due to be approved by the assembly on January 25.

"This alteration will determine how many pitches will be required for gypsies and travellers in the region. The current draft suggests the need for 1,187 pitches by 2011, 176 of which are in Hertfordshire."

Councillor Peter Ruffles (Conservatives, St Andrews) said: "Pitches in Hertfordshire have been well managed in my experience, for a good many years. My problem comes when people claim that special cases for Gypsy sites over-ride the existing planning policy controls which quite rightly limit the development of homes for others."

He added: "176 sites cannot possibly be introduced into Hertfordshire under these terms, so I oppose the rough-shod riding of the East of England Assembly."

Derrick Ashley, executive member for planning, external relations and waste, criticised planning decisions being taken at a regional level.

He said: "All planning is now in the hands of the regional assembly, what I would describe as a 'semi democratic quango' but this is due to pass into the hands of the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), which is a non-democratic quango.

"The whole move is away from local decision-making.”

Editorial Comment:

The truth is that, it would appear, the Gypsy Site provision must be taken out of the hand of local authorities and ideally placed into the hands of a body that will cover the whole of the country so as to make for evenhanded work. There is, yes, surely, a need for locals to be able to voice their opinion but this cannot and must not be on the grounds of reasons that are normally given such as “the presence of Gypsies makes the value of the houses decrease” and “crime will increase”, and such. That is, when it comes to Gypsies proper, that is to say, the Romani, nothing but racism. It could be said that in the cases of other itinerants the fears often are well founded.

MVS January 2008