The Government has given Epping Forest District Council a directive to provide an extra 49 gypsy and traveller pitches by 2012 and more after this date. Their idea is that in providing enough suitable pitches in environmentally-sustainable locations, travellers and gypsies will no longer make unauthorised encampments.
The official consultation does not begin until 4 November 2008 and will run through to 20 January 2009. Members of the Cabinet will see a first draft of the consultation document at their meeting on Monday 6 October 2008. Amendments to the draft will then be incorporated before the document is considered by the Full Council on 28 October 2008. The Council has written to all landowners of sites identified in the draft document, inviting them to look at the information and offering them the opportunity to attend a special briefing to discuss any questions they may have.
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Cabinet meeting 6 October 2008 webcast
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The report with the accompanying draft consultation document can be viewed via the Homepage of the Council`s website. The Council anticipates a great deal of public interest and will make the final document widely available electronically or in print form.
All local authorities are required to carry out this exercise and this Council always intended to include the accommodation needs of the travelling community in its wider consultation arising from the more general targets for housing and employment provision set out in the East of England Plan. Despite this the Government issued a Directive requiring the Council to deal separately with the gypsy and traveller issues by publishing a stand-alone plan for this by September 2009. The consultation between November and January will cover options for what the final submitted plan should contain. The consultation document identifies 27 sites across the District. Each is listed and discussed individually, with aerial photographs to show how it sits in the surrounding landscape.
The final version of the document will include a detailed questionnaire designed to help the Council understand the public views on the key options. The District has no choice but to provide these pitches but it does have a choice as to where it proposes they go.
This exercise is being jointly organised by the Council`s Planning and Housing Directorates. Councillor Anne Grigg, Planning and Economic Development Portfolio Holder, said: At this stage the location of potential sites is primarily a planning issue but clearly the accommodation needs of the travelling community forms a part of the Council`s overall housing responsibilities. We are required to make provision for travellers and gypsies. Mistrust and misunderstanding between the travelling and settled communities can lead to friction. This process, which includes comprehensive public consultation, should help to identify a balanced solution. Hopefully if our District plans for good sites we will run less risk of unauthorised encampments and the problems these create. It should also lead to fewer unsuitable sites being granted over our heads on appeal. This puts Epping Forest back in control of events.
Housing Portfolio Holder, Councillor David Stallan agrees. He said: We have legal duties of care towards everyone living within the District. As well as consulting the settled community, it is also important to talk to the local travelling and gypsy communities. Council staff will be working directly with everyone involved to make sure we get the best outcome possible.
The Government call for the provision of additional traveller and gypsy sites in the District coincides with work to deliver general Government housing targets set out in the East of England Plan. As referred to earlier, Epping Forest District Council had hoped to combine the traveller and gypsy consultation with its general consultation with residents on the up and coming Local Development Framework delivering the East of England Plan.
In so doing it hoped to incorporate some of the required traveller and gypsy provision within larger projects for private and affordable housing developments. However, the Government has insisted that the traveller and gypsy consultation should be carried out separately.
Councillor Grigg said: It seems to many of us that the best way to provide new traveller and gypsy pitches could be as part of larger new developments in much the same way as we have successfully integrated affordable housing as a requirement of all planning applications over a certain size. That might have been done as part of the Local Development Framework but the Government wants us to look at traveller and gypsy provision as a separate issue.
Councillor Grigg added: Whilst there is an under-provision of sites nationally, the Council feels that this District has been allocated too many extra pitches in comparison with some other areas. However, the Government still wants us to plan for more sites even though the final number we need to plan for has not yet been decided at a regional level. As a result we must now comply with their Directive. Even so, I must stress that no decisions have been taken and not all the sites identified would be needed. This is at a very early stage, nothing is cast in stone. We want to make sure everyone can have their say through a properly structured debate. We will obviously talk directly with the owners of the sites and people in the travelling and gypsy communities but we also welcome the views of others which will be taken into consideration.
The Council will be including an update in the Christmas edition of The Forester. The final document and consultation forms will be available on the Council website and people will be able to request printed copies. One or more public exhibitions will be held where residents can view the options and ask questions. District Council representatives will work directly with people in the traveller and gypsy communities. Town and Parish Councils will be encouraged to help provide feedback. The consultation is due to finish on 20 January 2009 with the outcome published later in that year.
To view the draft consultation document, visit the Council online at www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk . Responses can be made from 4 November. The Council will also publish a dedicated phone number for enquiries following publication of the finalised consultation document and survey form on 4 November 2008.
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