Frustration at slow moving gypsy policy

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Conservative councillors spearheaded a call to fast-track through a workable gypsy sites policy at last Thursday’s council meeting.

Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham) and Tricia Youtan (Con, Itchingfield, Slinfold and Warnham) told their fellow Horsham District Council Strategic Planning Advisory Group members that they needed to find sites quickly.

Officers confirmed that if they did not allocate a five-year land supply for gypsy and travellers’ sites, they would probably have to grant temporary planning permission.

The draft report on preferred site options will be sent to the full council in July to approve the document for consultation during the summer.

Mr Donnelly said: “We must not overlook we have had illegal traveller sites because of their perserverance in getting temporary planning permission.

“The residents have been livid but they have lived with it. The Baker Report says we should make these sites permanent.

“The locals are not amused. We are rewarding those who live illegally.”

Ian Howard (Con, Southwater), chairman of SPAG and cabinet member for living and working communities, said that they had some response from wards on a call for sites.

However, he admitted that what he called affected areas, such as Itchingfield, were the most likely to come forward with potential pitches.

“We simply have to get this through asap,” Mrs Youtan said.

“I’m slightly concerned at the amount of time it’s taking. We really must move on this.

“We did promise after Barns Green we would try and complete this and get the policy in place by June. Is there any way we can speed this up?”

Officers responded that they were following best practice guidelines.

Liz Kitchen (Con, Rusper and Colgate), added: “I agree with what Brian has been saying. We have been having this debate for 20 years and I really do think this should be fast-tracked.”

She added that if travellers were thrown out of sites in neighbouring authorities they might pitch illegally in Horsham district.

Mr Donnelly also asked if they had approached the traveller community and asked the wards if they had any suggestions so that the process was not seen as totally top down.

“The Baker Associates Report I think was a total waste of money,” he added.

“The needs analysis is full of holes. In localism this is not going the way it should be. At the moment they are of the opinion it’s top down and it’s not in line with localism.”

Officers defended the 2007 Baker Report, commissioned under the previous South East Plan, as providing a robust evidence base.

Meanwhile an oral update on a consultant’s report on the public’s responses to the housing consultation was given.

Roger Smith, vice-chair of CPRE West Sussex, said that it seemed odd Mr Howard did not invite questions and the public were not provided with a copy of the report until after the meeting.

He added: “The implication seems to be that there will be no public discussion between now and September.”

Mr Howard said the document would be a useful tool to help members persuade him of the number of new houses he should suggest to cabinet to go in HDC’s new spatial strategy, to be consulted on this autumn.