A new report commissioned by Thanet council says the district should provide five Traveller pitches -to accommodate 10 caravans – in the five year period up to 2022 and then an additional two pitches – equating to four more caravans- by 2031.
The Thanet Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA) was commissioned in July 2017, and carried out by consultants arc4 to identify the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers and Travelling Showpeople from across Thanet.
It was discussed last week as part of the Local Plan examination.
There are currently no authorised pitches in Thanet district. The report describes unauthorised encampments as “sporadic” over recent years.
There were 50 unauthorised camps in Thanet last year, compared to just two in 2013. There have been at least a dozen this year, mainly consisting of groups moving from one isle site to another.
Lack of official sites
A spokesman from the Friends, Families and Travellers organisation has previously told The Isle of Thanet News that a lack of official sites is forcing groups to pull up on public land and not enough is being done to address that issue.
They also highlighted that despite a Government scheme making £4.7 billion available under the Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes Programme 2016-2021 – which includes provisions to build Gypsy and Traveller sites – not a single local authority has used this funding to build sites.
They added: “It would appear that there is a need in Thanet for authorised sites to be built. We would recommend that the district council and local authority work with the Traveller community in the area to identify land that would be suitable for building new sites to accommodate these residents.”
This has now been backed by the arc4 report which says: “The GTAA (report) 2017/18 has found evidence of Gypsy and Traveller pitch need over the next five years (2018/19 to 2021/22) for a minimum of one pitch and up to five pitches under the cultural definition. For the overall remainder of the Local Plan Period (up to 2030/31) the GTAA has identified a cultural need for seven pitches.”
While research into the report was being carried out there were two unauthorised traveller camps on the isle and members of those groups spoke to arc4.
The report says: “Interviews with 6 households on an unauthorised encampment were achieved. These families need a site to live on but were not specifically looking in Thanet and therefore not included in the assessment of permanent pitch need.
“Given the increasing incidence of unauthorised encampment activity, it would be recommended that a transit site or temporary stopping place would be appropriate. A site of 5 pitches would be able to accommodate up to 10 caravans.”
The report says that, according to the 2011 Census, there are 69 Gypsies and Traveller households currently
living across Thanet, of whom 68 households live in bricks and mortar accommodation and one lives in a caravan.
Council evidence given to arc4 said there are two main family groups involved with unauthorised encampments on the isle.
The report says: “There are a range of reasons why they are in Thanet including family links, education and economic reasons. In particular there are links to family and Germany and Lancashire and Thanet is seen as a good intermediate location for travelling between these areas. There is an indication that older members of the group wish to settle permanently in Thanet, but that others will continue economic activity and travel between Thanet, Lancashire and Germany. This reinforces a need for a mix of permanent and transit provision.
“For the overall remainder of the Local Plan Period (up to 2030/31) the GTAA (assessment) has identified a cultural need for 7 pitches.”
For the assessment a joint stakeholder consultation was undertaken in partnership with Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Shepway and Swale councils.
This revealed some respondents felt there should be additional support to assist Gypsy, Traveller and Travelling Showpeople families, including more officer training, raising awareness, building better links between communities, helping the community engage with parish and town councils, making information more available, employing liaison officers and providing education support such as Virtual Schools.
Some respondents were concerned about racism and conflict with the settled community. It was noted by one stakeholder that most knowledge and awareness among settled communities was formed via the media, and personal experience in the context of conflict over either transient encampments or unauthorised development.
Suggestions to raise awareness included training officers to better understand the ways and traditions of Gypsies and Travellers; ‘myth busting’; establishing better links with existing Traveller community groups and raising awareness through websites, public meetings and events.
Traveller groups at Dane Valley in Margate and Ramsgate’s Eastcliff were evicted this week by Thanet council. Some members have now moved on to the Marina Esplanade car park in Ramsgate.
Sarah Mann, Director of Friends, Families and Travellers, said:“We are pleased to see that Thanet council has carried out the Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment. Now is the time to act on the recommendations and to start the planning process for pitches in the area.
“Unauthorised encampments are a result of a chronic shortage of sites in the UK. We look forward to seeing the positive action Thanet council takes to build these pitches and to support members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities in the area.”