Many thanks to all the constituents who have contacted me regarding the proposals to establish one or two new permanent pitches for Gypsies and Travellers in the Chesterfield borough. I will be writing back to everyone.
People are understandably angry and concerned by the proposals and, whilst it is important not to generalise, there are historic problems linked to traveller sites that will make communities uneasy about having a site in their back yard.
Whilst I suspect that the reality of a permanent site would not be as bad as people anticipate, I always ask myself the question: “How would I feel if this were my street?”
And the answer to that question in this case, is that I would entirely share the concerns that have been expressed to me.
You will probably be aware that the Government have placed a legal duty on all councils to identify what the need is for Gypsy and Traveller pitches in every area and establish sites to meet that need. There has been an ongoing problem with temporary traveller encampments across the country, and we have experienced that a good deal here in Chesterfield recently. These sites have caused disruption to local communities and it is hoped that establishing more permanent sites will alleviate these problems.
Last summer, we had a significant number of temporary illegal sites set up that left the Council with emergency work and significant costs, both to clean up and to get the legal authority to move them. In the future, the Council has a legal duty to have attempted to find permanent provision.
However, I will be stressing to the Council the need to recognise the concerns of local people and consider which site will have the lowest impact on the community. It is important to remember that there will be a six week public consultation, which is still only the first step in a long planning and public enquiry process, and everyone will get the chance to have their say.
The Government legislation also means councils are expected to “very strictly limit” new traveller sites in open countryside. The Council have asked private landowners and other authorities such as Derbyshire County Council if they have any suitable land, but none has been suggested which means that the sites suggested will be on pieces of land owned by the Council.
There will be many factors that the Council must consider; such as size, access, road safety and impact on the local area and services. These factors should provide the basis of the representations against the sites proposed. I understand entirely that people will have reservations about issues like impact on house prices or perceived increased risk of crime, but these are unlikely to be accepted under planning law as a legitimate objection. The Council have already considered 40 different sites based on these factors and shortlisted it to the final six for consultation.
I am also aware that many people have noticed that the sites shortlisted by the Council are all in what might be considered to be more deprived communities. It is not true, as some have suggested, that these are all a long way from Councillor’s homes, indeed, in several case Councillors live near to the sites suggested. But it is the fact that the majority of Council Garage sites are on Council estates and for that reason they are the sites that have been identified.
A permanent site does mean there is an initial capital cost to council budgets but as well as being a legal requirement on the Council, the proposal is likely to be cost neutral as people inhabiting permanent traveller sites would be forced to pay Council tax. It would also mean the costs associated with breaking up, moving on and clearing up illegal encampments in the area would shrink. As these sites also have toilets, showers and weekly refuse collection, the expectation is that the environmental concerns associated with many temporary camps would diminish.
Following the consultation the Council may identify one or two sites to put forward as proposed Gypsy and Traveller pitches in their Local Plan. I don’t anticipate that any site will enjoy the support of local residents, and I will make representations on behalf of any residents who contact me about a specific site. It is important that these representations are fully considered. I can also assure you that local Councillors will also be making representations on behalf of their Constituents too.
The consultation is expected to begin on 12.02.18 and a series of drop-in dates will be announced by the Council to enable residents to discuss their concerns with council staff. Consultation forms and information will be available at the Town Hall and Chesterfield Library.
Residents can also send their comments or objections to the Council by emailing them at email@example.com or writing to Strategic Planning and Key Sites, Town Hall, Rose Hill, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, S40 1LP.
Please take the time to attend the drop-in sessions and send your feedback to the Council. Please also be assured of my attention on this matter, I don’t underestimate the strength of feeling on this and will keep you updated on any further developments.