Arun District Council is seeking to meet the housing needs of travellers with up to 18 new pitches by 2016. Working with its consultants, Baker Associates, the Council has identified a number of potential sites across the district and will use the results of its public consultation to draft a formal policy that it hopes to adopt in 2010.
Of the 15 sites on the Council's shortlist, 11 are located in my Arundel and South Downs constituency, as follows.
Possible permanent sites for ‘gypsies and travellers':
EAS001 Nova Paddocks, Eastergate Lane, Eastergate
- FIN001 Coventry Plantation, Findon
- PAT001 Patching Wood Yard, France Lane, Patching
- RUS001 Brook Lane, Rustington
- WES001 Wyndham Acres, Northfields Lane, Westergate
- WES002 The Paddocks, Northfields Lane, Westergate
Site for ‘travelling show people':
BAR001 County Nursery, Yapton Road, Barnham
Sites considered ‘worthy of further investigation for future consideration':
ANG011 Lay-by on A27 (emergency stopping place)
- ARU001 Canada Gardens, Chichester Road, Arundel
- CRO001 Crossbush Lane, Crossbush
- WAL002 Land at rear of Woodcroft, Walberton Lane, Walberton
2. Key concerns
I do not propose to set out detailed comments about the suitability of each site. However, as the Member of Parliament for Arundel and South Downs, I would ask Arun District Council to note the genuine concerns that have been expressed by a number of my constituents, some of whom I have met to discuss this issue. I would also like to set out two of my key concerns about these proposals.
2.1 Illegal encampments
I appreciate that one of the reasons for establishing permanent sites for travellers is to try to eradicate the problem of illegal encampments and make it easier for local councils to take action.
Whilst I am keen that we should deal with this problem, I am also concerned that we do not, as a matter of principle, reward people who have set up an illegal encampment by formalising their arrangements.
Some of the sites on Arun's shortlist are either illegal or have been granted with temporary permission and I do not think that we should necessarily assume, because a site is already occupied, that it should remain so.
Most people in this country have a sense of fair play and abide by the rules for new development. We should not have one set of rules for travellers and another for the rest of us. The planning system must be consistent and fair to everyone.
2.2 Setting priorities for affordable housing
I believe that people from different backgrounds and traditions should be allowed to lead their lives in their own way, but with this freedom comes a responsibility to the wider community. Most travellers accept this, but a very small minority do not.
According to the Baker Report, gypsies and travellers have expressed a preference for living on sites in a rural setting, with enough space around them to house members of their immediate and extended family, but is this not something that many of us would wish for?
I have already said publicly, when these proposals were first published, that travellers should not take priority over other families in the provision of land for social housing. If land for housing is in short supply, the needs of travellers should be placed alongside those of other families who are waiting for affordable housing. I do not believe that travellers should receive preferential treatment.
I have a great deal of sympathy with Arun District Council who will have to make some difficult decisions on travellers' sites in response to targets imposed by the Government. They are in the same unenviable position in relation to house-building targets, which follow a similar "top-down" approach. That said, I hope the Council will ensure that, so far as possible, the stance they take is non-discriminatory and fair to everyone in the community.
The decision about where to locate pitches for travellers is a matter for Arun District Council, not for Parliament. However, as the local MP for many of the areas affected by these proposals, I have received dozens of letters and e-mails about this issue and I would urge the Council to take these on board.
In particular, some of my constituents have expressed concerns about the accuracy of the Baker Report and have identified a number of specific errors. I do not believe that the public will have confidence in the outcome of a consultation process that is based on inaccurate information, so I would ask the Council to consider how it can resolve this problem. It is very important that local communities feel that their views have been taken into account and that the right decisions are made on where to locate these sites.
Nick Herbert MP for Arundel & South Downs