County council aims to offload Travellers sites

Essex County Council (ECC) wants to sell off its Travellers sites as it faces bills of work costing an estimated £2.9 million across the sites over ten years.

The council is planning to dispose of the 11 owned and one leased site, which altogether provide a capacity of 188 pitches.

Of these sites, 25 pitches are in Hovefields in Basildon, 100 in Cranham Hall Chelmsford and 12 in Ladygrove, Chelmsford.

In September 2018 Lambert Smith Hampton, ECC’s property consultants, was commissioned to investigate a programme of planned and periodic maintenance for the sites.

The firm recommended that work costing an estimated £2.9 million be spent across the sites over ten years, with a recommendation of work costing an estimated £506,527 be carried out in year one.

With a maintenance budget of £235,465, it is likely that a backlog of maintenance will arise.

This takes no account of other factors which may increase the need for repair, for example, nine pitches on a site in Felsted have recently become uninhabitable owing to antisocial behaviour.

A statement to the Place Services and Economic Growth Policy and Scrutiny Committee at ECC said: “ECC is not able to guarantee that sites disposed of will remain in use as GRT (Gypsy, Roma and Traveller) sites indefinitely post sale, but will make all reasonable efforts, working in conjunction with districts, on any future site-specific sale agreements and appropriate title restrictions to ensure as far as possible that existing occupants’ rights on the sites are protected.

“Regardless of who owns the sites going forward, good site management is critical, and we will ask that joint management plans to collectively solve complex challenges should be considered by site owners and other local stakeholders such as tier 2 authorities and, if necessary on a case specific basis, Police and the Essex Fire and Rescue Service.

“For example, in a minority of sites where there is criminal activity or antisocial behaviour a joined-up approach between the site owner, upper and lower tier local authorities and the police can ensure a good balance between engagement, welfare and enforcement functions.

“ECC has been proactive in instigating such joint management plans with other partners in the minority of sites where this is needed, and it is the expectation, but not a requirement of any sale that such joint working practices continue.”

The statement said no consultation with site residents has been undertaken.

“Consultation would be required if an option is chosen which has a significant impact on residents but the council will require any purchaser to use the sites as a travellers site and not risk their continued residence on sites,” it added.

“As a condition of disposal, it is proposed that buyers be required to use the sites as Gypsy and Traveller sites for a period of 25 years from the date of transfer, subject to discussion with other stakeholders on a site-specific basis.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter