Basildon Draft Local Plan 2016
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Traveller and Gypsy provisions in the Basildon Council Draft Local Plan
Residents of Basildon do not need to be reminded of illegal traveller camp at Dale Farm in Basildon's green belt and the £7 million spent to clear it in 2011. They might hope and expect that the council would have proceeded from there to ensure that other illegal camps are removed. Sadly the opposite is true. The council has listened only to the demands of the traveller community and now plan a massive increase of traveller camps in the borough through the emerging local plan. The purpose here is to raise awareness of the new and expanded traveller camps that are being planned and to explain in terms of the numbers of pitches involved why national planning policy does not require them.
Former Allotments, Haslemere Road, Wickford: new traveller site of 10 pitches.
Policy H6 of the Basildon Draft Local Plan indicates that there will be an entirely new traveller camp of 10 pitches within the policy H16 development of 420 homes adjoining North West Wickford. These will be erected at the site of former allotments behind existing houses on Haslemere Road next to a children's play area used by local residents. The Draft Local Plan describes this as urban site. In fact it is currently green belt.
Playing Fields at Eversley Leisure Centre, East Basildon: new traveller site of 15 pitches
Policy H13 is a plan to build 2000 homes between Pitsea and Bowers Gifford. The Eversley Leisure centre will be relocated. The open space of its recreation ground along with those at Gardiners Lane will be compensated with a 500m wide buffer down the middle of the H13 development. Part of the recreation ground will be used for a new 15 pitch traveller site within the future urban area of H13 next to Eversley. Once again this land is presently green belt.
Gardiner's Lane South: new traveller site of 15 pitches
Policy H7 of the local plan for 660 new homes and employment areas West of Gardiner's Lane South will include a new site for Irish Travellers of 15 pitches financed by £1m of public money. Planning permission for this site has already been granted.
Lower Park Road, Wickford, new traveller site of 8 pitches
"The Burrows" a property in green belt land at the Southern edge of Wickford near Marks and Spencers will be permitted to form a new traveller camp of 8 pitches. This land will remain green belt.
Cranfield Park, off A127, traveller site expanded from 9 to 25 pitches
An existing traveller site off the A127 East of Basildon and South of Wickford will be enlarged to nearly three times its currently permitted size. This is one site which was included in a report in the Echo saying that the site was expanding illegally and already has about 20 pitches. In other words this expansion in the draft local plan has already occurred. There is nothing to stop the owners of this site continuing to but land in the area to expand even further in the green belt. The areal photo shows that it consists of caravans and houses which may have been constructed illegally with no planning permission or buildings control.
Hovefields of A127, traveller site expanded from 36 to 58 pitches
Hovefields is a well known traveller site which was the scene of former evictions. Since then there have been concerns that it was growing on land being bought up by one individual to form new pitches. The new draft local plan confirms this by showing that it is now to be expanded by 60% to 58 pitches making it the biggest traveller site in Basildon, if not the UK. Again this is expanding on green belt land probably without any planning permission or building control.
Oak Lane, Crays Hill, traveller site to be expanded from 45 to 52 pitches
This site, often referred to as the legal part of Dale Farm remained occupied when Dale Farm was cleared in 2011. The Draft Local Plan allows for it to be expanded by 7 pitches. There have been fears that the adjoining Dale Farm site was being reoccupied but the Local Plan does not recognise that. This site is also in the green belt.
Basildon Council is required to follow planning policy for traveller sites to assess housing needs for travellers and gypsies. A report commissioned by the council concluded that the Borough had 136 legal pitches but needed an additional 240 pitches of which 136 were needed to reaplace Dale Farm. This would have given Basildon a total of 376 pitches far exceeding any other district in the UK. Recently the governments planning policy for traveller sites was revised and now includes a section which reads as follows
Adding up the numbers
"In exceptional cases, where a local planning authority is burdened by a large-scale unauthorised site that has significantly increased their need, and their area is subject to strict and special planning constraints, then there is no assumption that the local planning authority is required to plan to meet their traveller site needs in full."
This could have been written explicitly in mind of Basildon's Dale Farm evictions which was a large-scale illegal site imposing a need while we are constrained by the green belt. It is already questionable that a figure of 136 pitches was identified as required due to Dale Farm which was reported to be nearer 50 pitches in size. It is more surprising now that this figure has not been rejected entirely given the above change in planning policy
Another anomaly is that the new site has been authorised on land West of Gardiner's Lane South has been treated as a new need in addition to those in the report, so the new Draft Local Plan now aims to increase the number of pitches to 391 pitches. This does not include transit sites for transient travellers which are yet to be included.
As well as the green belt constraint it is accepted that the maximum size of a site before it becomes unmanageable is 15 pitches. The council should therefore be aiming to reduce the size of Oak Lane and Hovefields rather than expanding them but instead they have taken this as a limit for new sites in urban areas only.
To clarify the situation, here is a summary of the numbers used in the plan vs the numbers that should have been used.
The council has proposed to ask neighbouring councils to meet Basildon's unmet need of 131-142 pitches through the principle of duty to cooperate. This is the correct thing to do although only 89 pitches are now required. It is likely that our neighbours will vigorously reject this proposal as they have done in the past. It is also likely that some of them will seek to place any pitches they agree to in locations close to our boundary, e.g. Brentwood will almost certainly propose a large traveller site in their part of Dunton Garden Suburb.
It is also important that Basildon council continue to monitor unauthorized sites in the borough. In the past where they have failed to evict from these sites in time they have become tolerated sites. If this happens to more sites in future they must be ready to subtract them from the unmet need rather than using them to justify new need.
It is often repeated that travellers and gypsies are an underprivileged ethnic minority who need to be treated sympathetically when planning for their housing needs. Basildon has far more pitches than any other council. There is no obvious limit to the need that could be imposed on us while individuals are seeking to continually increase the number of pitches without authorisation knowing that the council will then be required to accept it as a new need. the size of some camps is now well above the 15 pitches that is considered manageable. At what point has enough consideration been given to the travellers? When should the council start taking into account the protection of the green belt and the express wishes of local residents who oppose new traveller camps both on the green belt and in urban areas?
Those who support the travellers cause also need to ask themselves to what extent these large camps are really in the interests of the people who live there rather than the handful who own the pitches and businesses that are run there. Communities of such size for ethnic minorities constructed without planning permission and building control risk becoming shanty towns or even ghettos. How big are these camps likely to be in 20 years time if they are now being allowed to expand without control? If planning rules are being ignored what is the situation with employment rights? Concerns for travellers mental health and sanitary conditions are already being reported in the press. These are problems that can only get worse if the council allows further expansion of existing camps and creation of new ones.
In addition to the large sites listed above there are a number of smaller sites some of which will be expanded. It has also been proposed that 11 to 22 pitches can be sites in plotland areas.