City council set to pitch in and search for new travellers’ sites

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A WEST Yorkshire council is expected to begin looking for suitable council-owned and private land for use by travellers in a bid to protect green-belt land from unwanted developments.

Wakefield Council has claimed that finding suitable sites for travellers will benefit both the settled and travelling communities.

A report by the authority states that the current lack of available sites to meet the accommodation needs of travellers is leading to planning applications coming in on land usually located in the green belt.

Travellers or others seeking to develop green-belt land can use the “unmet need” argument to support their plans which can only be granted in very special circumstances.

The report, to be discussed by members of the Cabinet committee on Tuesday next week, states: “Unmet need can be classed as “very special circumstances” to allow development in the green belt. Enforcement action on unauthorised sites is also more difficult to pursue given the evidence on the need for accommodation.”

According to the council, the district ought to be providing a further 26 residential pitches for gipsies and travellers over the next five years.

A further five pitches are needed for travelling show people.

The figures are based on a 2009 report looking at traveller needs for the whole of Yorkshire.

The council report says that £12,000 will need to be spent this year to pay for the gathering of evidence on the accommodation needs of travellers.

A working group of officers and councillors will be set up to look at the council’s options.

The working group is expected to review council-owned sites to “identify possible new candidates and review ones previously looked at”, according to the report.

Privately-owned sites may also be considered “in the right locations” and could be provided by registered social landlords.

The working group will also consider finding more than the minimum number of pitches required given recent planning appeal decisions which have allowed such developments.

The report adds: “Site selection should focus on sites which have best potential to have planning permission granted taking into account all relevant national, regional and local policies and guidance and which have a realistic prospect of coming forward if planning permission is granted, with regard to grant funding.”

The authority’s officers believe that establishing evidence for traveller accommodation would help the council to reduce illegal camps and strengthen the authority’s case in any legal action against such encampments. A spokesman for the council said the authority was a “long way off” making a final decision on the issue.

“The purpose of the meeting is for the council to endorse the decision to assess if there is a need for accommodation for travellers, gipsies and travelling show people. We are a long way off making a decision and this is just the first step.”

Any sites which are earmarked by the council will have to go through the planning process, allowing people to comment.

Wakefield has already seen a number of controversial sites proposed for use by travellers.

Plans for a gipsy site on the site of the former Ossett Household Waste Recycling Centre were dropped after a huge public outcry and opposition from Dewsbury and Mirfield Tory MP Simon Reevell.

Currently householders in Walton, Wakefield, are fighting plans for a travellers’ campsite with 18 pitches on private land between The Grove and The Balk.

The parish council has strongly objected to the plans and two public meetings have been held on the issue.

Walton parish councillor David Plaut said yesterday: “We would much rather they look for sites on their own land. We wonder why they are all in the south east of Wakefield.”