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Council investigates new gypsy traveller sites

Report reveals nearly £2m spent moving travellers on since 2003

Published on February 2nd 2011.

Council investigates new gypsy traveller sites

Leeds City Council is planning to build more pitches for gypsies and travellers at a potential cost of £1.3m.

Councils cannot simply evict gypsies and travellers and are forced to assess their welfare first, and apply for a court order. Many of the families moving between sites, however, are from Leeds – the report says at least 12.”

Channel 4’s recent documentary series, Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, has put travellers in the national spotlight. Now Leeds is assessing its own relationship with the community.The extra pitches could be built at an existing gypsy and traveller site in Cottingley Springs. The council claims there is space for an extra 14 pitches at the site, and a report from its corporate property management department said it would ‘be in the region of’ £1.3m, or £92,000 per pitch.

A new report for the council’s scrutiny board said the council has spent almost £2m moving gypsies and travellers on from various sites since 2003. The new review has been carried out due to the large number of unauthorised encampments in and around the city, in places such as Garforth and Fearnville Leisure Centre, particularly in the summer. At Fearnville. There were 54 caravans on the encampment.

The council said these encampments had cost thousands to clear up and were also damaging the environment.

The Cottingley Springs site is the only gypsy and traveller camp in Leeds; there are no negotiated stopping sites, which has led to a stream of unauthorised encampments being set up. Since 2007, the site has charged £98.12 a week for a pitch, with an extra charge of £23 per additional caravan. Housing benefit can be claimed for the charge and the site nets the council around £250,000 a year in rental income.

Between April 2010 and October 5, 2010, there were 54 unauthorised encampments in Leeds, 42 of which were on council-owned land. In the last five years, there have been 350 encampments involving more than 2,500 caravans.

Councils cannot simply evict gypsies and travellers and are forced to assess their welfare first, and apply for a court order. Many of the families moving between sites, however, are from Leeds – the report says at least 12.

The council went to court 27 times to repossess land between April and October, losing three times. The police used its powers to take back land six times.

Although the council has spent £1.9m moving gypsies and travellers on since 2003, the report says those costs to not cover money spent by West Yorkshire Police, which they believe will be ‘substantial.’

The repeated legal defence of three particular families is also costing the council money in legal bills, although the report admits that further permanent sites ‘would not eradicate unauthorised encampments’, which will still need ‘robust and co-ordinated management.’

‘The current policy of moving what are regarded as ‘Leeds’ gypsies and travellers around the city from one encampment to the next is probably untenable and a new approach must be developed,’ it said. The council now wants to develop established stopping sites, similar to those in Cheshire and Bristol, although it admitted this process ‘would not be without difficulties.'

The council also wants to improve levels of educational and health in gypsy and travelling communities.

Helen Jones, chief executive of the Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange (GATE), said the report was ‘a genuine attempt to reach a way forward.’

“The report contains some really practical suggestions which I think will be widely welcomed,W she said. "We will, however, utterly resist any attempts to make Cottingley Springs bigger. We much prefer the idea of smaller family-sized sites which can be more easily integrated into existing communities.”

So what do you think? Are gypsies and travellers a nuisance or are they not being given a fair break? Are they bounced around sites because of poor council planning or should the local authority be looking out for its tax-paying residents first and foremost? Rant below...

The full list of council recommendations:

1. To consider providing negotiated stopping sites for gypsies and travellers in Leeds for ‘very short term encampments.’

2. Consider the principle of an additional 25 pitches for caravans in the city to accommodate ‘Leeds’ families of gypsies and travellers and look at other suitable sites and costings.

3. That recommendations 1 and 2 are developed in context with the ‘wider strategic approach of the city region.’

4. A review of Cottingley Springs to see if there is room for extra pitches and how to pay for their creation.

5. Review licensing at Cottingley Springs and incorporate legal changes into future tenancy agreements.

6. Adopt a ‘good neighbourhood code’ for all gypsies and travellers to adhere to.

7. To develop a strong residents’ group on the Cottingley Springs site to help engage more with the local community. To be established by June 2011.

8. Continue to encourage and support development of private gypsy and traveller site provision.

9. Investigate the national and local position of gypsy and traveller girls’ school attendance and educational achievements at 11 years and above.

10. Establish which health services have been withdrawn from gypsies and travellers and check that alternative arrangements have been made to support them.

11. To ensure the council and the police stick to the same protocols regarding gypsy and traveller sites.

12. Review and expand the information pack given to local residents near unauthorised encampments.

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