Traveller sites to be leased, not sold

Christine Field
Christine Field

Plans to sell off West Sussex County Council’s traveller sites will be rejected if a select committee recommendation is accepted.

Members concluded that long-term leases would be a better option than this, partly on the grounds that this would enable the county council to maintain ‘arm’s length control’ for the benefit of residents.

But the environmental and community services select committee also called for other options to be considered as well, not excluding commercial operation of the sites by the council itself or management of sites by social landlords.

Members declared that they wanted to see terms and conditions currently enjoyed by site residents to continue.

And they insisted that they wanted to make sure long-term commitments were reflected in any future legal agreement.

A final decision on the way ahead will be made by Christine Field (Con, Lindfield), cabinet member for public protection.

The county council currently has 10 sites which have a total of 113 plots. There is a waiting list of 50 families.

The select committee was told the county did not have a statutory duty to develop and maintain sites.

Responsibility rested with district and borough councils.

Sam Tearle, principal manager for strategic commissioning, said the fear about the sale option was not about who the initial purchaser would be, but that there would be subsequent owners after the first one sold.

“This could be something we had no jurisdiction over,” he added.

Select committee chairman Duncan Crow (Con, Tilgate) supported the lease option.

“This is not just about money, but about having the right terms and conditions in place to protect those living on the sites, and future tenants,” he said.

“However, the rationale behind this is to keep the overall cost to the county council lower, although it is not an overriding need.”

Brian Coomber (Con, Shoreham) said long term leases would mean the county council retained arm’s length control.

“But if we sell the sites, who knows what will happen?” he added.

“We can’t walk away from the commitments we have.”

Heidi Brunsdon (Con, Imberdown) said she was concerned at the ‘narrowness’ of having just two options - either selling the sites or having long leases.

“We should be looking at other options as well, such as social landlord management of our sites,” she told the meeting.

West Sussex County Council select committees act to scrutinise the council’s proposed decisions, reviews existing policies and monitor council projects’ budget and performance.

For more information visit www.westsussex.gov.uk