We will play a key role over gypsy sites’

LOCAL authorities will decide on the location of new travellers sites – and NOT the Government. So said Cllr Richard Thake, the North Herts District Council s portfolio holder for planning, in an exclusive interview with The Crow. He was adamant that loc

LOCAL authorities will decide on the location of new travellers' sites - and NOT the Government.

So said Cllr Richard Thake, the North Herts District Council's portfolio holder for planning, in an exclusive interview with The Crow.

He was adamant that local authorities would play the key role in the decision-making process.

His assurance comes after the publication of a consultants report - the Scott Wilson Report - on travellers' sites in Herts.

The independent report was commissioned between North Herts, Stevenage, East Herts and Welwyn-Hatfield district councils.

Cllr Thake said: "At this stage I have to clearly state that this is the consultant's document.

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"It should be understood that the group of local authorities have reached no decisions."

And he stressed: "It goes without saying that the partner authorities will demand that any allocation must not be site specific."

In other words: "It is the function of the individual authorities to decide on pitch location and not the Government's," he said.

And Cllr Thake continued that any local authority across the region that did not accept "a realistic portion of pitches" would be open to a robust challenge.

Although sites in North Herts were suggested in the consultants report is it likely that there will be change with sites dropping out and replaced with other alternatives.

In North Herts this is "the most likely scenario," said Cllr Thake.

He believes that once the exercise has been completed then North Herts would need to increase its travellers' site capacity by three to 25 caravans.

"Thus we are most likely looking for one site at worst and more probably a modest extension to existing facilities," he said.

A travellers' site already exists in North Herts in Caldecote where there are places for 12 caravans. The site has been in existence for the past 23 years.

Cllr Thake said the consultation report was nothing more that a "technical exercise".

He added: "The majority of the concerns raised in the study are likely to prove to be as transient as some of the groups for whom this work is being undertaken."

The sites identified in the Scott Wilson Report include land at Hinxworth Road South, Ashwell; London Road, Barkway; Buckland Road, Barkway, north of Payne End, Sandon; land south of Notley Green, Sandon and The Joint North, Reed.

Meanwhile, Royston Town Council's response to a consultation exercise from the East of England Regional Assembly on gypsy and travellers' accommodation emerged this week.

In its response, the town council said: "Provision (of travellers' sites) should be made in areas where there is shown to be a need, not in areas where no need is required."

And North Herts District Council said in its response: "An opinion which should be considered is that local authorities who have undertaken a robust assessment with other surrounding local authorities should be able to decide their own district level figures.

"There should be the option for districts to come to an agreement among themselves about where the need is met."

And Herts County Council raised the point that the EERA needs to "emphasise to Government" the need for adequate funding for any additional provision.

MP Oliver Heald said he stood by the opinion he raised in Parliament in June when he said that the location of travellers' sites should be on the traditional routes used.

He said then that the whole issue had to be about "meeting need rather than creating demand".

Government minister Meg Munn said then that the "general principle" was to provide sites when need arises.

"It is surely much better for the need to be met through good quality, well-managed sites than through unauthorised sites," she said.

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