Yesterday I out a public question to Cllr Richard Moore at about traveller allocations in the new Draft Local Plan for Basildon. Basildon residents need no lesson on the story of the illegal traveller site at Dale Farm which cost the council millions to clear in 2011. It is frustrating to see that the Draft Local Plan proposes to allocate 240 new traveller pitches in the Borough of which 136 are to cater for the need imposed by the former presence of travellers at Dale Farm. A moments thought should have anyone familiar with the circumstances trying to check those numbers, after all reports in the press said there were about 50 pitches cleared at Dale Farm. Where then does this huge number of 136 come from?
The numbers come from Basildon's "Gypsy, Traveller and Showpeople Local Needs Accommodation Assessment" dated March 2014. The number of 136 pitches are justified as follows: "This includes 83 pitches for former residents of Dale Farm who are living as concealed households or outside the borough plus a further 53 formations for these households over the next 20 years."
Let's just skate over the fact that they are allowed a 63% increase in population over 20 years and think about the figure of 83 pitches at Dale Farm. Below is an aerial view of Dale Farm shortly before it was cleared. The yellow line shows the dividing line between Dale Farm to the East and Oak Lane which was a legal traveller site that was not cleared. I invite you to count the pitches which are clearly marked out by fences. I make it 49 pitches in Dale Farm and 34 in Oak Lane for a total of 83. What this could mean is that they have counted the pitches in Oak Lane in addition to the ones in Dale Farm. Since Oak Lane is still occupied there is no reason why Basildon should allocate new pitches for those. However, it has also been said that 83 families were displaced from Dale Farm, so they may be requiring that each family has its own pitch even though many of them must have been sharing pitches before. Either way, 136 pitches to replace an illegal camp where 49 pitches were cleared seems a little excessive.
All of this should be irrelevant because in August 2015 the government published a revised policy for traveller allocations which should rule out any allocation of pitches for Dale Farm. My question at the council meeting was about whether the allocations would be reviewed. The good news is that they will, and the new review is due out any time. Given the past history I will refrain from celebrating until we get the details.
Here then is a video from the question I asked at the meeting and a transcript of the answers (apologies for the poor quality of the recording):
Philip: The Council is fully aware of the updated national Planning Policy for Travellers that was published on 31 August 2015 and it has taken these policies into account as far as it can in the latest Draft Local Plan. The Council became one of the first in England to commission an update to the Accommodation Assessment and Site Provision Study for Gypsies, Travellers and Travelling Showpeople in October 2015 to take account of the updated policy, which is due in early 2016?
Cllr Moore: I can say that The Council is fully aware of the updated national Planning Policy for Travellers that was published on the 31 August last year and I can confirm it has taken these policies into account as far as it can in the latest Draft Local Plan. The Council became one of the first in England to commission an update to the Accommodation Assessment and Site Provision Study for Gypsies, Travellers and Travelling Showpeople in October last year to take account of the updated policy, which is due early this year.
Philip: Another government document entitles designing gypsy and traveller sites says that a maximum of 15 pitches is conducive to producing a comfortable environment which is easy to manage. Why then is Basildon Council in its draft local plan proposing to expand Cranfield Park from 8 to 25 pitches, Hovefields from 36 to 58 pitches and Oak Lane from 45 to 52 pitches especilly since these are permanent traveller sites in the green belt, which goes against the government policy which I cites in my first question?
Cllr Moore: Well, the Draft Local Plan has been prepared considering the updated national policy first, as well as the evidence available, recognising that some details in the latter may result in refinements to the final version of the Plan later this year. Whilst Government can change national policy, whenever it sees fit, plan-making if underway cannot just stop, particularly now the Government has issued a warning of sanctions to Local Planning Authorities who fail to submit by early 2017. It is therefore important to remember that the Evidence Base to the Local Plan is not static and can be continually reviewed. Only substantial differences of findings which would fundamentally change in the Plan’s approach would result in a need to consult on any specific policy area again.