Travellers may be offered more sites in Leeds to set up camp

Travellers on land adjacent to the retail park on Whitehall Road, Leeds
Travellers on land adjacent to the retail park on Whitehall Road, Leeds
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TRAVELLERS and gipsies could be granted more places to set up camp in Leeds as part of plans being considered by senior councillors.

Bosses at Leeds Council want to introduce new measures to reduce the number of unauthorised camps which have cost taxpayers almost £2m in clean-up and eviction and legal costs since 2003.

One of the key proposals is the creation of more caravan pitches which, it is hoped, will encourage traveller and gipsy families with Leeds connections to set up camp at places endorsed by the council.

Councillors will next week be asked to approve a set of site selection guidelines to continue the work looking into possible sites for the Leeds-based traveller families.

The issue will be discussed by senior councillors at a meeting of the council’s executive board on Wednesday.

If the recommended selection guidelines are approved, the next steps will be for officers to identify sites that would potentially be available for accommodation for gipsies and travellers.

The guidelines that have been put forward take into account the current and emerging guidance from the Government, the council’s policies and also how to make best use of council-owned land assets.

Leeds Council’s executive board member with responsibility for neighbourhoods and housing, Coun Peter Gruen, said: “The process of identifying potential site options for gipsies and travellers is still at an initial stage. This is another key step forward in our work towards reducing the number of unauthorised encampments across the city.

“Our new approach is already proving successful – the number of unauthorised encampments is down 23 per cent on this time last year, the courts backed our application for an injunction preventing encampments across the Burley area and we have improved the management of our existing traveller site at Cottingley Springs.

“We will of course ensure we consult with local people affected by decision and options for sites in the future, and also the gipsy and traveller community.

“There are a number of factors that we need to consider and these will feed heavily into any decision we make.”

The meeting next week follows from an inquiry last year into site provision by the council’s environments and neighbourhoods scrutiny board.

The board presented 12 recommendations, with the conclusion that the current cycle of encampment and evictions was not meeting the needs of gipsies and travellers nor Leeds residents.

If the selection guidelines, which include issues such as planning and whether the land is sustainable and easy to manage, are backed a future report will identify a possible site or sites.

“Officers believe that there is limited value in considering sites that are under offer allocated for another purpose or occupied/tenanted given the alternative value that they represent to the council,” a report to executive members says.

It is intended that viable site options will be submitted to the executive board for consideration and approval at a later date. If site options are approved then planning applications would also need to be made and approved before any work is carried out.

In the report to members, council chiefs also stress that once a suitable site or sites has been discovered the public will be consulted. Gipsies and travellers will also be asked for their views on any proposed sites.

The West Yorkshire Gipsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA) identified that there was an unmet need of 40 pitches in Leeds in 2008 rising to 48 by 2015.

The report adds that evidence presented to the scrutiny board inquiry and ongoing monitoring has identified 12 pitches are currently needed and this is where the authority should focus in the short and medium-term.

joanne.ginley@ypn.co.uk