Council accused of “moral abdication of responsibility” over Gypsy and Traveller sites in Yorkshire

York’s Local Plan fails to provide for the future of Gypsies and Travellers, according to York Travellers Trust (YTT).

The organisation has accused City of York Council of “a moral abdication of responsibility” in the way it has drawn up the plan – which is a blueprint for how the city will develop in the coming decades.

YTT say the plan – which is now out for public consultation after being approved by the council’s executive on Thursday – fails to identify appropriate sites for new pitches and does not include enforceable obligations for developers to support their creation.

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Council chiefs have said the plan will see additional pitches created on council owned sites and that developers will struggle to get their new housing developments through the planning process without providing for Gypsies and Travellers.

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But YTT said developers would strongly oppose creating pithces on their developments.

In a letter to the council, YTT’s Abbie North said it was “absurd” to think council planning officers would “block the development of major strategic sites for the sake of tiny numbers of Traveller pitches”.

She told senior councillors on Thursday: “It is a moral abdication of responsibility to fail to provide Traveller sites as part of inclusive, mixed, truly multicultural communities of York in the future.

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“What we’ve got promised is brand new, private family sites as part of multicultural communities – what we’re actually getting is 13 new pitches at Osbaldwick, which is one of the most deprived sites we’ve seen in this country.”

Abbie stressed that with a small tweak, the council’s Local Plan could go from being one of the worst examples for Gypsies and Travellers, to one of the best.

This would be achieved by allowing a policy exception for Traveller sites to be built in the green belt – in the same way there is an exception for affordable housing, she said.

YTT chief executive and Yorkshire Gypsy Violet Cannon added: “Gypsies and Travellers are often portrayed as law breakers. But what they want is the same as any other family in York – a safe place to live.

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“The Local Plan is a once in a lifetime opportunity to ensure that the Gypsy and Traveller communities of this city have access to safe, sustainable homes from which they can access the same social and educational opportunities as all other citizens while creating good relationships between all the groups in the city.”

A council spokesperson said: “The approach the council is taking combines a commitment to developing additional pitches on existing sites that it owns and manages with a requirement for developers of strategic housing sites to provide sites proportionally to the pitch needs of the city’s Gypsy and Traveller communities across the city.

“Green belt policy is set at a national level and the planning policy for Traveller sites does not allow for sites in the green belt unless very special circumstances are demonstrated.”

The spokesperson added: “Once the plan is adopted, the policy requiring strategic housing sites to provide pitches will be enforceable and carry full weight, meaning planning applications will have to comply with the requirement to provide a proportionate number of pitches.

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“The policy allows for an alternative site to be used to develop the pitches, but the responsibility will be on the developer to identify and secure the site.”

The council runs three permanent Gypsy and Traveller sites in the city – in Clifton, Osbaldwick and James Street.