Preferred Options for Sites
2. History: How we got to this point
2.1 No specific accommodation needs for these groups had been identified in this district prior to the publication of the “Gypsy and Travellers Accommodation Assessment for the South Housing Market Area of the West Midlands” in 2008. This identified a requirement for 11 permanent and 15 transit pitches for the Gypsy and Traveller community. Whilst the assessment also included Travelling Show People, it did not identify a specific need within the district for this group.
2.2 Officers began work on identifying a site initially for transit use on land within its ownership, as it was considered that this would be the easiest to deliver in the short term. However, this proved not to be the case as Council owned land is inappropriately located and largely comprises of urban parks and green spaces, which are not suitable for the use of Gypsies and Travellers for either a transit or permanent site.
2.3 In the meantime, the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) review took place and the distribution of pitches across the region was reassessed. This resulted in a requirement for 23 permanent pitches in the district. Before this figure could be ratified, however, a change of government brought a new approach to planning and the regional planning system was abandoned.
2.4 To ensure that its future evidence base was robust and reliable, the Council commissioned a new Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA) for Warwick District in 2012, undertaken by Salford University, a leading provider in this field. The report was published in November 2012 and demonstrates a need for 31 permanent pitches to be provided over a 15 year period, 25 within the first five years and in addition 6-8 transit pitches over the full 15 years.
2.5 Warwick District Council has worked in collaboration with Warwickshire County Council to identify potential sites to meet this need. Enquiries have been made of local land agents, landowners who have submitted sites to be considered for other types of housing, public bodies, statutory undertakers and Warwickshire County Council to identify any potentially available land that meets the criteria set out for site suitability.
2.6 Additionally, ‘areas of search’ were selected by officers within which it is believed that there could be potential for a Gypsy and Traveller site, outside the Green Belt, close to the road network and within easy reach of local facilities (schools and doctors etc). This information was included in the Council’s Gypsy and Traveller Site Options Paper which was consulted upon from 14 June to 29 July 2013.
2.7 A number of issues came out of the options consultation which need clarification. The Council does not intend to own or manage Gypsy & Traveller sites itself. Experience of other Local Authorities shows that the best way for sites to be provided and run are by Gypsies and Travellers purchasing and setting them up for themselves. These privately run sites are more akin to conventional housing and can be controlled through planning consents with the appropriate conditions attached and the granting of site licences; both of which have to be obtained from the Council.
2.8 There is some confusion over the difference between ‘sites’ and ‘pitches’. A site is the total area taken up by a number of pitches. A permanent pitch represents an area of land which will provide accommodation for an individual family and consists of an area of hard-standing on which a park type home or permanent caravan, a touring caravan and associated vehicles can be located, together with a utility room for sole use of that household. A number of pitches (which will be restricted by a planning condition attached to any consent granted) constitutes a site. Extending the number of pitches on a site would be subject to a planning application and sites would then be assessed for any constraints and restrictions. Any unauthorised pitches added to sites could be the subject of enforcement action and if planning permission were not granted, the pitches would be required to be removed. If this was not carried out in accordance with the enforcement notice, the site licence could be rescinded and the site would be required to be vacated and returned to its former condition.
2.9 There is also some confusion over the difference between ‘transit’ and ‘permanent’ sites and what this Council is seeking to provide. Transit pitches are required to serve a relatively short period of time where Gypsies and Travellers can reside with some basic services provided to meet their day to day needs. These sites attract the payment of a bond which ensures that Travellers leave the site in a satisfactory condition. Permanent sites are, as suggested, a permanent area where the travelling community can set up a base from which they may travel, but will always return. These sites are the equivalent of a house and allow the community to register with local services and children to attend schools. Residents of such a site will pay Council Tax to receive services provided by the Council and will supply and pay for all water, sewerage and energy supplies. In addition, any residents who do not own the site themselves (e.g. extended family or friends of the owner), will be expected to pay rent to the site owner as their landlord.
2.10 The Gypsy & Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA), (November 2013) defined this Council’s permanent need as 31 pitches over a 15 year period. Because the Council has no current provision and therefore a historic under-provision, 25 of those pitches must be found within the first five years, with the remainder being found over the following ten year period.
2.11 In addition, the GTAA found a need for 12 transit pitches over the same time period. The Council has been closely involved with Warwickshire County Council (WCC) with regard to the provision of such pitches and the County Council has committed to the provision of emergency stopping places (to serve the transit need) for the whole of Warwickshire. To do this, the County Council is looking for a site in the north of the county and one in the south which will satisfy the requirements for all Local Authorities in the county. To this end, WCC has already identified and gained permission to use a site in Stratford District as the site in the south. This site will satisfy Warwick District’s need. This Council is therefore only looking to provide permanent sites i.e. 31 pitches over a 25 year period. These pitches will be accommodated on a number of sites, each having a relatively small number of pitches determined by the site size, constraints, appropriateness and conditions.
2.12 Government advice suggested at the time of the consultation, that sites of between 5 and 15 pitches are the most appropriate size for successful management. Since then, the advice has been amended and the lower end of this scale is now recommended. This will mean a larger number of small sites and there is no intention to provide for all our requirement on one large site.
2.13 Under the ‘duty to co-operate’ outlined in the 2011 Localism Act, there is a requirement to consider the production of joint development plans on a cross-authority basis, especially where a local planning authority has severe planning constraints across its area (as in Warwick District where the green belt places considerable constraint on any development unless in special circumstances). Warwick District has approached adjoining districts and is continuing a dialogue in an attempt to find sites that are suitable but not necessarily within its boundaries.