Traveller site hunt in Leeds

Cottingley Springs.
Cottingley Springs.
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Plans are being considered to spend £1m on creating a new 10-pitch travellers’ site in Leeds.

A report on Leeds City Council’s efforts to address problems caused by illegal traveller camps will be debated by the council’s executive board on Wednesday.

The proposals, which are in response to a January scrutiny report, rule out expanding the city’s only permanent travellers’ site at Cottingley Springs, pictured.

Coun Peter Gruen, the council’s executive member for neighbourhoods, housing and regeneration, said: “The present system clearly isn’t working as we have spent almost £2m since 2003 in evicting travellers and cleaning up after unauthorised encampments.”

According to the report, the Homes and Communities Agency has indicated that £1m could be made available for a new permanent site, though a location is yet to be decided. A bid could be submitted this month and there is a “good prospect” that it will be successful, providing that a suitable site is found and planning permission is granted.

The shadow spokesman for housing, Coun Les Carter, said: “At a time when finances are so stretched, the administration seems determined to push ahead with plans for more travellers’ sites in Leeds.

“I think this is a mistake since there is no evidence it will solve the problem of unauthorised encampments in the city, and may in fact encourage more travellers to come in search of a place to camp.”

The expansion of Cottingley Springs has been labelled as “unfeasible” by the report due to policing concerns over more than the current 41 pitches over two sites.

It was previously put forward to expand the current site by 14 pitches at a cost of nearly £1.3million or more than £92,000 per pitch.

This pays for connection to water and electricity supplies, drainage, roadways, as well as building and planning costs.

And the idea of negotiated stopping points, where travellers reach an agreement with local authorities to stay on land for a set period, also appear to have been dismissed after concerns were raised that this could increase demand for pitches and make evictions more difficult.

Helen Jones, chief executive officer at Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange, said: “There has been no recommendation made about negotiated stopping and this should be revisited.

“Some things in the report are encouraging but I think there are indications that we can really benefit from improving dialogue and understanding with travellers.”

The report states that only non-residential areas should be used for new travellers’ sites and that community consultation for any new developments is essential.

Ms Jones added: “The problem of unauthorised encampments isn’t going to be solved by 10 pitches so we need to know how to sort them out first and that is where negotiated stopping comes in.”

Following discussions over the development of any new sites, a report will be submitted for approval to a future executive board.

PIC: Simon Hulme

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