Consultation on Possible Location for Transit Caravan Site in Reading

A LOCATION for a new transit caravan site in Reading for use by gypsies and travellers will be the subject of a public consultation set to begin later this month.

Last year there were 87 unauthorised encampments in Reading, most of which were on Council land. Enforcement and clean-up bills cost Reading Borough Council and the Reading council tax payer an estimated £95,000.

If the possible location for a transit site is agreed following consultation,  it would for the first time create a dedicated space for gypsies and travellers in Reading. This could help reduce the number of illegal encampments in the town and cut down significantly on enforcement and clean-up costs.

The site is on land at the junction of Cow Lane and Richfield Avenue and was chosen following a thorough assessment of 80 potential sites across the borough. These were closely considered against a range of planning criteria, which included  potential effect on residential amenity, visual effects and access issues.

The exercise follows the result of a recent Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA), which identified accommodation needs including for 10-17 permanent pitches and for a transit site to house 10 caravans for gypsies and travellers in Reading.

After careful consideration by Council officers – including the likely availability of the 80 sites – one possible site is being proposed for consultation.

A meeting of the Council’s Policy Committee on September 25th is set to approve the officer recommendation for public consultation on the site. The full report – which includes a full list of the sites considered and reasons for rejection – can be found at: http://www.reading.gov.uk/media/7699/item09/pdf/item09.pdf

Councillor Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:

“Every local authority is obliged under national planning policy to consider how gypsy and traveller accommodation needs can be met. There are currently no permanent or transit pitches in Reading and the recent assessment confirms what we have known for some time – that there is a need for suitable sites locally.

“Unlike many local authority areas, Reading is very tightly constrained with obvious difficulties in finding suitable sites. Officers have carried out a detailed assessment of 80 potential sites and, as a result, one transit site has been identified as potentially suitable.

“If agreed, this provision would only part meet the identified need in the borough of course. As well as consulting on this possible site, the next step is therefore for the Council to engage with other local authorities to see if the identified need for permanent pitches can be met elsewhere.”

Councillor Liz Terry, Lead Member for Neighbourhoods at Reading Borough Council, said:

“There were 87 unauthorised encampments in Reading last year, the majority of which were on Council land.  The cost of the legal process for eviction, enforcement and clean-up costs was just under £100,000. This was paid for by the Council and the Reading council tax payer.

“Where there is an illegal encampment, the Council and Thames Valley Police work closely to use the most appropriate powers. The reality is that the legal process can take time and is not always in the Council’s hands. By providing a dedicated transit site in Reading, we could reduce the number of unauthorised encampments and the associated costs which follow.

“Importantly, the availability of a dedicated transit site in the local authority area means police could potentially make full use of powers which require travellers to leave land quickly if there is a suitable pitch located elsewhere in Reading.”

If approved at Policy Committee on September 25th, the consultation will run for a period of four weeks, starting from the week beginning September 25th until Tuesday October 24.  People will be asked for their views on the Cow Lane / Richfield Avenue site as a possible location for a transit site and whether they agree there are no other potentially suitable and available sites in Reading Borough. Once the consultation goes live people can email responses to: planningpolicy@reading.gov.uk or write to Planning Policy Team, Civic Offices, Bridge Street, Reading, RG1 2LU.

Under national planning policy there is an expectation that every local authority should properly consider the accommodation needs for gypsies and travellers. Reading Borough Council’s emerging Local Plan – and responses to the consultation – will be considered at the November meeting of the Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport Committee.

Notes To Editors:

Housing Act 2016

The requirement to periodically identify accommodation needs for those dwelling in caravans and houseboats is set out in Section 124 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016.

Police Powers

The Police have discretionary powers under sections 62 A-E of Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to direct both trespassers and travellers to leave land and remove any vehicle and property from the land where the senior police officer reasonably believes that two or more people are trespassing on land with the purpose of residing there, that the occupier has taken reasonable steps to ask them to leave and there is a suitable pitch available on a caravan site elsewhere in the local authority area.

Duty to Co-operate

With no other sites identified and proposed as suitable to meet the needs of permanent traveller pitches in Reading, the Council will need to engage with neighbouring authorities under the ‘duty to co-operate’ to consider the potential for the need to be met in other authorities.  Those authorities will need to see evidence of the process that Reading has gone through to identify sites before any possible agreement can be reached, and this evidence will also be required at the Local Plan examination.

Oscar Mortali

For media enquiries about this release email oscar.mortali@reading.gov.uk or call 0118 937 2301