Sunday, 29 March 2009

Traveller Sites - Update

When Conservative run South Beds District Council announced traveller sites for Houghton Regis, even the 6 Lib Dem Councillors that represent Houghton Regis residents had to find out the news from the local newspapers.

The plans to establish new travellers sites were presented at Executive Committee on 13th January 2009, and quickly distributed to local newspapers. The announcement was swiftly followed by waves of angry phone calls from Houghton Regis residents to your Lib Dem councillors. The decision to make the announcement was made by a core of Conservative councillors who control the running of South Beds District Council. Lib Dem councillors have no say in these Executive decisions.

The chosen areas, include land off Sandringham Drive, Houghton Regis, Kingsland Former Community College, Sundon Road, and Thorn Turn, Thorn Road. View Map.

A group of Houghton Regis town councillors were invited along to a planning meeting at the S.B.D.C. offices on 17th February 2009. There we learnt that the decision was taken after paid consultants identified areas in South Bedfordshire District Council's region that would satisfy Central Government directives. Apparently South Beds is not providing sufficient sites for travellers, gypsies and showmen, and as a consequence of this, the S.B.D.C. officers complained that when they issue notices to remove travellers from illegally occupied sites, the courts determined that the S.B.D.C. was in contravention of regulations to provide sufficient sites for travellers.

Saskia Duncan, a spokesperson for the Joint Technical Unit S.B.D.C., told me "National and regional guidance was used to develop a set of criteria against which to evaluate potential sites and existing sites. All the sites brought forward from the various ‘calls for sites’ were subject to this assessment."

Of the survey undertaken by these paid consultants, (a heavy document was waved at us on our visit to the S.B.D.C. offices, as if the size of the document justified the expense), it has not escaped our attention that the only sites apparently available and chosen within South Bedfordshire are ones were Conservative support is poorest.

The Report to the Executive Committee is available online and provides a summary of the Study including the set of criteria used in assessing potential sites. The Report can be viewed on line at www.southbeds.gov.uk.

Saskia Duncan told me, "The Study will be subject to future public consultation later on in the year as part of the Local Development Framework process. Should you wish to be notified, your contact details can be added to our LDF database. "

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