Should council increase Travellers’ sites?
March 01, 2012
A new study will reveal whether Wokingham should increase its target for Traveller pitches and consider giving formal approval to long-standing illegal sites after several plans for permanent Gypsy sites in the borough won approval on appeal.
Wokingham Borough Council says it has provided enough space for the Gypsy, Romany and Traveller communities according to the existing target of 21 pitches.
However, multiple planning applications for Gypsy sites around the borough, including a plan for Bearwood Road in Barkham, have won approval on appeal from the planning inspector after the council rejected the plans.
The planning inspectorate has said in its judgements that the old targets, which were part of the now-defunct South East Plan, are not an accurate reflection of the true need in Wokingham.
In response to this, the council is to spend £26,000 on a survey analysing what the demand is for Gypsy, Romany and Traveller sites in Wokingham.
Councillor Keith Baker, executive member for transport, said: “We refused the planning applications, although I can’t pre-empt planning decisions, because of the policy we have at the moment.
“We have been continuing to refuse them and recently the majority of them go through to appeal and recently we have been losing almost every one, the reason being because the planning inspectors are questioning the accuracy of the needs analysis.
“There is also a reasonable number of pitches without planning permission.
“We know they are illegal and they have been there for over 10 years.
“That actually makes it very difficult to evict them – we have effectively given them planning permission by not enforcing.”
Cllr Baker said the council is being tough on enforcement action for illegal encampments and officers are visiting known sites to ensure they keep to planning rules.
He said the pitches that have been illegally in use for more than 10 years could be left in the future as work to adapt the sites has already been done and it would be legally difficult to evict people from the sites after such a long period of time had passed.
Basildon District Council evicted dozens of people from Dale Farm in Essex last year following a 10-year planning row over the use of the site.
Wokingham council spent around £2,000 cleaning up after illegal encampments over the last three years and a further £4,700 on legal fees.
At present, the council has enough pitches to meet the existing target, however the new needs analysis could reveal further sites are needed.
The needs analysis would need to take place over two seasons due to the movement of Traveller, Gypsy and Romany people during the course of a year to assess the demand in Wokingham.
Static Traveller pitches include an area of hard-standing for a static mobile home, an area of hard-standing for a caravan and space for a utilities block.