A new war of words has broken out between Leeds’s housing boss and a key campaigner for the city’s traveller and gypsy community, after disagreement over the council’s policy on evaluating the number of traveller caravan pitches needed in the city.
As reported in the YEP last week, studies by the council have concluded that 40 more caravan pitches will be needed in the city over the next 15 years. The authority aims to provide 13 new pitches every five years.
However, Helen Jones, from Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange (GATE), said the council had grossly underestimated the level of need – and accused bosses of using a “bullheaded” evaluation approach which ignores Government guidelines.
The council has always disagreed with the guidelines, based on a 2008 study led by Sheffield Hallam University, which had recommended 48 new pitches for the city. The authority insists its own methods, based on housing applications for traveller pitches, are better and more updated,
However, Ms Jones says relying on housing applications by a nomadic and largely on-the-fringe community was “a stupid way of going about things”.
“Leeds has gone down the route of using its own methodology which is all about the housing list,” she said. “There is a lack of reference to the guidance. It’s a bullheaded attitude saying ‘we are doing it our way’.”
However she added: “We just want to build something - we don’t want to argue about numbers.”
Councillor Peter Gruen, executive member for neighbourhoods, planning and support services said: “GATE will always act as advocates for gypsies and travellers and so their views will be one sided.
“On the other hand the council seeks to strike a fair balance between all community interests and to do that we propose to base our decisions on a single common housing needs assessment. It is surely only fair to assess every housing application we receive on an individual basis? To do this we need to update our information regularly and not rely on data from 2008.”
A planning inspector will next month scrutinise the proposals to increase the number of traveller and gyspy pitches in Leeds – and decide whether the council has been fair in its evaluation of the needs of the city’s nomadic communities.