Village turns out to oppose gypsy sites

RESIDENTS of Barkway believe evidence they have gathered shows that the proposed travellers sites in North Herts are unsuitable. About 120 villagers travelled to Tuesday evening s meeting of North Herts District Council s Cabinet to oppose proposed site

RESIDENTS of Barkway believe evidence they have gathered shows that the proposed travellers' sites in North Herts are unsuitable.

About 120 villagers travelled to Tuesday evening's meeting of North Herts District Council's Cabinet to oppose proposed sites at London Road and Buckland Road in Barkway.

Dr Bob Davidson gave a presentation on behalf of Barkway Parish Council, explaining the reasons for the objections.

He said: "Our case shows that not only does Barkway not meet the Government's criteria for travellers' sites, but it doesn't fit the needs of travellers themselves.

"The evidence also shows that, as rural sites, Barkway and all the other proposed sites across North Herts are unsuitable.

"It was great to see so many people from Barkway at the meeting, we filled the whole chamber and an ante-room," he said.

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The presentation included a letter from Hughie Smith, chairman of the Gypsy Council.

In the letter he said that putting gypsies and travellers in locations they don't want to be is "tantamount to social suicide".

Dr Davidson added: "The letter from the Gypsy Council was our trump card. While there is a demand for sites around Stevenage and the A1 corridor, travellers do not want to live in rural areas with no facilities."

On Friday, the East of England Regional Assembly (EERA) decided that North and East Herts will have to provide 15 additional pitches each by 2011. Six pitches currently exist in North Herts, with seven in East Herts.

The proposals will be submitted to the Government's Department for Communities and Local Government - and be the subject of a three-month public consultation period.

The two Barkway locations are among 21 "areas for search" identified in the Scott Wilson consultants report as potential travellers' sites in Herts.

These also include land in Sandon, Buntingford, and Ashwell.

However, neither North Herts nor East Herts District Councils has yet decided on the most suitable place for the pitches.

Assembly chairman Cllr John Reynolds said: "Throughout the east of England we need more legal places for gypsies and travellers.

"With every local authority providing some additional accommodation, it will help solve the problem of unauthorised encampments which can cause problems for both residents and gypsies and travellers," he said.

The decision comes after two years of research, public consultation and development of its policy by the regional assembly.

Cllr Richard Thake, the North Herts District Council's portfolio holder for planning, told The Crow after the regional assembly's announcement:

"The imposition of additional pitches where there is no proven need is disappointing.

"The council believes that this allocation is larger than necessary, but together with existing powers, the new numbers are likely to mean only one additional site is required."

Meanwhile, Chris White, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the regional assembly and his group on Herts County Council, said he was "stunned" by the increase in pitches across the region.

He said independent research showed that in Herts 115 caravan pitches were needed, but the regional assembly increased this to 176.

Cllr White said: "Councils which object will now have to invest resources in fighting this in the Examination in Public or through the courts.

He had tabled a motion at the regional assembly which he said would have allowed local authorities in Herts to resist new pitch allocations under the planning process.

The motion did not gain enough support and now councils would have to prove that provisions for additional sites could not be met," he said.

Cllr White added: "This was a measured response to a process which has quite frankly lost the plot.