Cornwall Council has been awarded £1.24m by the Housing and Communities Agency (HCA) to provide further Gypsy and Traveller sites in Cornwall. Under the Government guidelines Cornwall Council needs to provide an extra 75 residential and 40 transitional sites for the travelling community. Click HERE for the definition of a Gypsy or Traveller.
No new sites have yet (as far as I am aware) been identified, but my understanding the plan could be to legalize some of the current un-authorised sites, or allow other smaller sites of 5-10 pitches to be built. Currently Cornwall Council via the housing department manages three residential Gypsy sites in Redruth, Camborne and Liskeard.
Radio Cornwall did a piece on this subject a few days ago, and from the responses during the call in it seems most were in support of more sites being provided. But is this representative of the population, or do the silent majority have a different view? It could be the public has really changed its attitude on Gypsy and Traveller sites, but I fear it is more of the case of ‘yes let’s have more, as long as it is not in my backyard’.
For instance, six years ago in 2006, there was an idea to place a gypsy site in Leedstown, near Helston. Three hundred residents filled a church hall to overflowing to protest at a feared council proposal to create a camp for travellers. So many converged on the Methodist church schoolroom that a second meeting had to be held for those who could not squeeze in for the first one. The proposals for a gypsy site never went ahead.
I think the key to this issue is making sure any proposed site has the local community supporting it in the first place. What happens if a local community is against the plans; how much power will local people have to veto the creation of these sites in their areas, as the Council is planning most sites around Council owned land. Would this mean Cornwall Council face months of angry residents’ meetings to keep these sites away from their homes, schools and communities in general.
In the end Cornwall Council could just says a site will be going here, and you will just have to deal with it. This will be bad for both sides, as the local community will resent the site, which in turn would make it harder for the (traveller) residents of the site to be part of that community.
Convincing people a site near them is a good idea might be difficult due to people’s perceptions on Gypsy and Traveller sites. I don’t think programs like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, or the recent news coverage, and long legal battle at Dale Farm have helped people change their views, or dispelled many of the myths surrounding Gypsy and Travellers.
I think Cornwall Council needs to quickly identify any potential sites, start talking to the town or parish council, including the Cornwall Councillor, but most of all talk to the people who live in the vicinity. If not, all hell is likely to breakout.
If this isn’t the right way, what is? Travellers are an issue that won’t just ‘move on’. So, what is the solution?