AHEAD of Thursday’s scrutiny committee on Central Bedfordshire Council’s gypsy and traveller plan, KATHRYN CAIN spoke to Cllr Nigel Young about how the selection process for sites was carried out and why the settled community has such negative perceptions of travellers.
Over the past few weeks Central Bedfordshire Council has been heavily criticised for its selection of 35 sites which could potentially house gypsies and travellers across the area.
With hundreds set to attend the meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee, where the shortlist of prospective sites will be made, tensions have been high and residents are rallying together to campaign against their towns and villages being overrun with caravans.
We quizzed Cllr Nigel Young, Executive Member for Sustainable Communities, Strategic Planning and Economic Development at CBC.
Gypsy and traveller sites are always a very heated issue with the settled community, why do you think this is the case?
There are many negative perceptions about gypsies but we have a statutory duty under the Housing Act 2004 to carry out gypsy and traveller area assessments.
I don’t think the media help sometimes, particularly some of the national papers and Channel 4’s Big Fat Gypsy Wedding which I don’t think provides anything other than an exaggerated, silly approach to getting married.
“People base their view on what they think the community is like but I have met many of what I suppose you would call the family leaders in Central Bedfordshire in places like Pulloxhill and Tingrith who are normal, nice people who just have a different way of life.
“Some people intergrate so well you could see them in the village pub or hairdressers and not know they were gypsies or travellers. That is not say however that there aren’t any bad apples.”
How do you go about choosing individual sites? There a number of sites, in places such as Sandy, Maulden and Haynes, have already raised issues as to why sites would be inappropriate. What was the criteria when choosing?
We firstly put a call out asking people with empty spots of land if they wanted to volunteer, as you would expect not many people offered so then we considered what land the council had available.
“If they were on a flood plain three they were automatically ruled out or if they were 12 inches from a motorway they were also ruled out. There were a number of criteria we looked at before going through to stage 2 where we looked at things like highways access, if they were within 6 miles of a school and that sort of thing.
“Three have now been rejected including the site in Georgetown Road, Sandy. Some sites may have issues which are overcome-able and so we might be able to look at them again.
“Sometimes residents might have local knowledge that we haven’t got. I have personally looked at fields before that the Environment Agency have said don’t flood and I have been paddling through them!”
Last month it was revealed that the government’s regional spacial strategy for the East of England, which gave your council guidance on the need for gypsy and travellers’ sites, had been abolished. Why do you still need to set targets then and what are they now?
“We had a previous assessment from 2006 but we had concerns that it was out of date and legislation required us to do our own assessment and to understand our own need in Central Bedfordshire. The current plan provides for accommodation up until 2031.
“I genuinely believe that one day we will be able to have the settled and travelling communities together side by side but we are not there yet.”
If you’re attending Thursday’s meeting get in touch with your views at firstname.lastname@example.org