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Opinion: Traveller Sites – The Council Has Been Put Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Published on: 4 Jul, 2013
Updated on: 4 Jul, 2013

Planning Traveller sitesby Martin Giles

For the past two years that I have been attending council planning meetings at Millmead there has been a clear message from all parties: we have to find more sites for travellers and gypsies.

It was not just that it was a moral obligation, for what the council leader Stephen Mansbridge says is our largest ethnic group in the borough, it was because central government, over the years, has given local authorities the responsibility for site provision and targets to meet.

But a major constraint, when trying to find suitable sites in our borough, is that it is almost 90% green belt. The land is specially protected in statute. Most of us are very glad it is.

Anyone who wishes to object to a traveller site will play the green belt ‘card’, if they can. And who are the rest of us to blame them? Be really honest with yourself, would you welcome gypsy or traveller pitches next door to you?

Nonetheless, these are fellow human beings. They might have a different way of living but they need places to live too.

Opinion Logo 2It is a difficult problem. To meet their targets local authorities were giving more and more weight to the case for providing such sites against that of green belt protection, especially where the impact seemed tolerable.

But then came Tuesday night and the surprising announcement that the government had made a significant change of direction. Government minister Brandon Lewis said: “… he [Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and local Government] considers that the single issue of unmet demand, whether for traveller sites or for conventional housing, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute the ‘very special circumstances’ justifying inappropriate development in the green belt.”

Hmmm… in Guildford Borough, if we cannot use any green belt for traveller sites, are we to only use our two none green belt areas? One of them is Guildford Town, probably not too many suitable sites there, and the other is by Ash. It can’t be fair to make the residents there accommodate all the borough’s travellers.

So what can give?

Call me a cynic if you like but I wonder if the sudden reappraisal is more to do with winning the next election than saving the green belt. Conservative MPs must know that building on green belt is as popular amongst Tory voters, as steak tartare at a vegan restaurant.

But regardless of the motive, if the new policy is going to work, there needs to be serious thinking about the predicament it leaves our councillors in, the predicament it leaves us as a community in, and, most importantly, the predicament it presents to our fellow citizens those actually in those traveller and gypsy communities. They are a relatively small minority and societies are correctly judged by how they are treated.

What do you think? Should the government rethink the current targets for local authorities with high percentage of green belt or should we admit that we cannot continue to be so strict about developments on green belt?

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test One Response to Opinion: Traveller Sites – The Council Has Been Put Between A Rock And A Hard Place

  1. Beryl McAuley Reply

    July 8, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    There are many parts of Guildford borough free of gypsy sites in Guildford. Why does the council need to put them all in the Ash, Normandy, Worplesdon area?

    Are the other boroughs too precious?

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