Councillor David Lloyd demands Government support on land allocations for Gypsy and Travellers

Posted on: Thursday, March 31, 2022

OUR Gypsy and Traveller communities form a longstanding part of Newark and Sherwood’s population.  As the population across the UK grows so will the need for additional housing for these communities.

But providing land for growing Gypsy and Traveller communities is often difficult, relying on the right land in the right place being available. Today, Newark and Sherwood District Council is questioning whether the Government need to reconsider their approach to national policy claiming that, ‘on this one issue, they need to make some significant changes.’

As the population grows, Government legislation determines how all Councils across the UK must meet the increasing housing needs of all sections of their local community.  

Councillor David Lloyd, Leader of Newark and Sherwood District Council explains, “We are required, by the Government, to provide land for not only housing and commercial development, but also for Gypsy and Traveller sites. That’s fine.  There is nothing wrong with that in principle but the methodology by which the Government require District Council’s across the UK to provide this land is wrong. 

“Before I get into the technical detail, let me make this very clear, our Gypsy and Traveller communities have been here for generations and they are integral to our community.  Just like in all community groups and estates, law abiding residents are unfairly tarnished with the brush of a few. Gypsies and Travellers are, and will remain, an important and welcomed part of our district’s make-up.

“The Government determine that the proportion of housing provision required in each area should reflect the make-up of each district.  Put simply, if the Gypsy and Traveller population in Newark and Sherwood was 5% of our district make-up, then for every 20 houses built, one Gypsy and Traveller ‘pitch’ is also required. This means that Districts like ours, with existing Gypsy and Traveller populations, need to plan for more sites than those without any and it is this point here that I feel is wrong.”

In Newark and Sherwood, currently there are around 400 pitches, the majority of which are located on Tolney Lane, Newark.  Therefore, when the District is asked to build more houses, it is also asked to provide more pitches.  The Government’s current methodology means that Newark and Sherwood District Council must find land for an additional 118 pitches, with the majority (77 pitches) needing to be provided within the next 5 years. 

The District Council understands that Broxtowe does not need to find any land for pitches.  Gedling has been asked to provide land for 1 pitch.  Ashfield and Mansfield need to find land for 3 pitches each.  Rushcliffe has to find land for 13 pitches and Nottingham City, land for 15 pitches. Finally Bassetlaw has to provide land for 40 pitches.  A pitch is described as a piece of land suitable to accommodate a caravan or mobile home with some space around it.

Councillor David Lloyd continues: “If we compare the amount of pitches we need to provide with the other Districts in Nottinghamshire, seven Districts have to find land for a combined total of 75 pitches between them while Newark and Sherwood has to find land for 118 pitches on its own.  This is disproportionate.

“Finding land around the Newark area is difficult. Despite our many attempts and our calls for private land owners to come forward with land which could be used for Gypsy and Traveller provision, we have not had a great success rate to date.  This has been made more difficult by the technical constraints of the land requirements for pitch provision such as flood risk.  There are simply not enough appropriate sites coming forward in Newark. Therefore we will likely have to purchase or lease land to locate these pitches on if we are to meet our Government-defined need for Gypsy and Traveller provision. 

“If we have to purchase or lease land, there is a significant cost to that which ultimately, as it currently stands, would in the most part have to be funded by the Newark and Sherwood District Council Tax payer.”

While there is financial help available from the Government to assist the District Council in buying and preparing land, including a recently launched £10m nationally available pot, there is unlikely to be enough money available across the UK to deliver what the Government is asking for given an upper cap of £1m available for a district’s to bid for from this fund.

The District Council’s future pitch requirements for permanently residing Gypsy and Traveller communities is being laid out in its ‘Amended Allocations and Development Management Development Plan Document’ which is currently being produced. The last stage of public consultation was in July 2021.   This Options Report document also outlined the sites that could be available to enable the District Council to meet those accommodation needs. Further updates on how the Council intends to meet its future needs will be provided in June 2022.

Newark and Sherwood District Council has called for sites on a number of occasions since 2013, including actively writing to all landowners who have previously expressed an interest in developing land.  Of all sites put forward, the District Council undertook a suitability assessment study and concluded within the development plan that out of 22 sites put forward, only three were considered suitable.  These are:

1 – Chestnut Lodge at Barnby: a private landowner has put forward some land to provide 20 pitches.

2 – Belvoir Ironworks: land available for sale to the District Council which could provide 30 pitches.

3 – Trent Lane, Newark: land available for sale to the District Council which could provide 19 pitches.

However, more beyond this land will be required.

Councillor David Lloyd continues, “Some residents have asked me why we can’t locate more pitches on Tolney Lane to accommodate our future needs.  As we have seen on many occasions, Tolney Lane is at risk of flooding.  Many of the current Tolney Lane residents are at risk and while we manage the risk as best we can, there is still a risk to life which, to us, is not acceptable.  Despite such risks, the planning inspectorate have consistently determined that until other land is available, new sites can continue to be granted temporary planning permission.  Therefore, another option is to provide more permanent sites at Tolney Lane if we can make it safe to do so.  To do this we would need to undertake some flood defence work.  But again, this comes at a cost for which no realistic funding has yet been provided.”

The District Council is clear that doing nothing and not meeting future pitch requirements is not an option.  Failure to address this now means that the Planning Inspectorate will determine the District Council’s ‘Amended Allocations and Development Management Development Plan Document’ unsound.  If this happens then there is the risk that the District Council is left with an out-of-date Development Plan and that its ability to resist inappropriate development will be lost, with the Planning Inspectorate unable to give serious weight to local planning policy  when determining appeals. 

Councillor David Lloyd concludes, “We work really closely with our settled Gypsy and Traveller community and we will continue to liaise with them while we work through this.  However out of 309 Council’s across the UK, just 12 of them have a similar requirement to us in terms of providing a similar number of pitches for Gypsy and Travellers.  Why does Government policy shoe-horn these groups into just 12 areas to the cost of the tax payer of that local area?  Why can’t these communities have provision all over the UK?  I question whether that is right. If the Government’s current methodology continues, then in another 10 years’ time, our pitch allocation will increase again and again while other districts in the UK never have to find any pitches, nor will their Council Tax payers be funding any pitches themselves. 

“I pose the question whether that is correct.  If it is a resident community expanding, then yes, it is correct.  But if it is driving travellers into very few areas across the Country, I’m not sure it is.   And I don’t say that with any prejudice as the Gypsy and Traveller community is made up of very different groups that should be allowed more choice and freedom in where they reside. I believe putting them all together is just wrong and that is why we are actively engaging with Central Government in the hope that this changes in the future.

“I understand this is going to cause a lot of questions or criticism, but I will not rest until a more fair policy is put in place to support our community, as a whole, in the future.”

The District Council’s next steps will be to complete a full and detailed assessment on the possible new sites in order to look at how much these will cost and how they can be managed.  It will also finalise the cost to complete flood defence work at Tolney Lane.  And finally, it will continue to lobby Government for change for the benefit of our entire community.

ENDS

Photographs:

Image 1: Map of Tolney Lane during a flood. (PDF File, 131kb)

Image 2: map showing the land available at Cheshunt Lodge at Barnby (PDF File, 61kb)

Image 3: map showing the land available at Belvoir Ironworks (PDF File, 114kb)

Image 4: map showing the land available on Trent Lane (PDF File, 195kb)

Councillor David Lloyd discussing this issue: