Memorandum by Wakefield Metropolitan District
Council (GTS 20)
1. CURRENT PROVISION
1.1 City of Wakefield Metropolitan District
Council (WMDC) covers an area of 33,000 hectares with a population
of approx. 317,000 people. This is centrally located at the heart
of the UK's communications network. Its strategic position at
the intersection of the M1, A1(M) and M62 motorways provides excellent
access to all parts of the UK.
1.2 The Caravan Sites Act 1968- established
a duty on local authorities to provide Gypsy sites to meet the
needs of those "residing in or resorting to" their area.
When the government was satisfied they provided enough they could
become "designated", which meant the authorities had
additional powers to remove unauthorised encampments. Wakefield
MDC provided one such permanent site at Heath Common, Wakefield
providing 38 family pitches for approx. 250 Gypsy & Travellers
and one Transit/Temporary stopping place.
2. DEMAND FOR
2.1 Heath Common Travellers Site is currently
at approximately 90% capacity this fluctuates with seasonal changes.
During winter months the site constantly runs at 100% capacity,
with a number of families requiring accommodation placed on a
waiting list. The Gypsy and Travellers Liaison Service at Wakefield
do keep in constant contact with a network of neighbouring authorities,
and families who cannot be accommodated are usually pointed in
the direction of local sites with known vacancies.
2.2 Site license conditions state families
are allowed to leave for a period not exceeding 6 weeks after
which the pitch will become available for re-allocation
2.3 In the year 2003 Wakefield MDC had 71
separate incidents of unauthorised camping, 68% of these were
on Local Authority owned land. On every occasion when Travellers
moved onto council owned land Wakefield MDC offerred them alternate
accommodation on the permanent travellers site. On every occasion
this offer was made, it was declined.
2.4 Further extensive enquiries with these
families suggest they would have no intention moving if directed
onto sites allocated by the Local Authority. There is no evidence
of significant further demand for permanent Gypsy sites in the
Wakefield MDC area, except in response to specific planning enforcement
3 EXISTING FUNDING
3.1 Heath Travellers site has a specific
budget determined at the beginning of each financial year.
3.2 Wakefield MDC does have partner agencies
who operate from and use the facilities of Heath Travellers Site,
to conduct their own activities for the site residents. These
include Health and Welfare groups, and Travellers Education Service.
These all have their own independent budgets to fund their own
activities, whilst making their own contributions to the improvement
of the facilities already on the site.
3.3 Expenditure incurred as a result of
unauthorised camping, including the legal work, subsequent clear-up
operations and security of land is currently funded by individual
local authority departments and landowners. Due to the unpredictability
of this subject area funding for unauthorised camping cannot always
be realistically planned for. Therefore none of these departments
have specific budgets designated for this work to be undertaken.
This results in these departments experiencing deficiencies in
other areas where annual funding had initially been set aside
4 THE GYPSY
4.1 Wakefield MDC has been successful in
securing 75% funding from the ODPM from the above scheme, for
the past two years. This funding has been used to part fund Wakefield
MDCs continuous commitment to improve the existing facilities
on Heath Travellers Site.
4.2 Wakefield MDC will continue to consult
the residents of Heath Travellers Site and will continue to submit
bids for any available grant aid to improve facilities at its
permanent Gypsy site, in order to maintain and improve the quality
of life for residents.
5 SITE CHARACTERISTICS
5.1 Heath Travellers site is located on
Heath Common at Wakefield. This area has been frequented by Gypsies
and Travellers for generations, some residents on the site have
been there for 30 years plus and their descendants can be traced
back to Heath Common to before the beginning of the century. The
site is located on the A638 Doncaster Road, one of the main arterial
routes into Wakefield with the City Centre and general facilities
such as shopping, schools and Medical centers within walking distance.
5.2 Each of the 38 family pitches has the
capacity to take upto three caravans on a hard standing surface;
all pitches are individual with a perimeter fence and lockable
gates. There is a utility block for each pitch providing the residents
with a toilet and bathroom, kitchenette, washing facilities, and
a storage room. The blocks have mains water and electricity supply.
5.3 The site does have a wardens house which
has recently been converted and now provides office facilities
for staff and accommodation to facilitate various activities for
the site residents. These includes:
secure office to deal with site related
adult education (Literacy, numeracy
and Driving Theory);
after school homework clubs;
under five classes and activities;
mother and toddlers groups;
regular health clinics; and
This building is located in a secure compound
which now provides a safe environment and the following now attend
the site on a regular basis:
Mobile Library Service.
Connexions Youth Service.
5.4 The site does have security in the form
of an eight foot perimeter fence and two CCTV cameras, all at
the specific request of the residents.
6.1 Managing Unauthorised Encampments an
The provisions contained within the above document
and within the Traveller Law Reform Bill seem to be based on the
Whilst there are existing provisions
for a landowner, a Local Authority and/or the Police to evict
travellers from land (with proposals for even greater Police powers)
the problem is that there is nowhere to evict them to.
If sufficient temporary stopping
places (in addition to any existing permanent Traveller sites)
were to be provided in Local authority areas then:
(a) there should not be a problem in
the first place since Travellers would have a legitimate place
to stay; or
(b) if they did camp illegally, then
prompt action could be taken to have them moved to such a temporary
In the ODPM News Release (Further Funding To
Help Gypsy, Traveller And Settled Communities Live In Harmony)
the above is described as "in essence a `carrot and stick'
strategyif you make sites available, there will be more
power to move unauthorised campers quickly."
This perspective seems, in many ways, to mirror
the same philosophy as existed previously when the answer to the
problem of illegal encampments was for County Councils to provide
Gypsy Caravan Sites as required by the Caravan Sites Act 1968;
since repealed by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Wakefield Metropolitan District Council at the
time provided a Gypsy site which accommodates up to 250 Travellers.
The "stick" at that time being the legal requirement
and the "carrot" being that with Designation status
the Council could take action through the courts more speedily.
In spite of the legal compulsion to provide
sites not all Local Authorities did so.
6.2 In Wakefield (when compared to neighbouring
authorities with no sites) provision of a Traveller site under
the "old regime" has not produced the perceived advantage
of being able to deal with unauthorised encampments more speedilyDesignation
status and the ensuing benefits were repealed under the CJ&PO
Act 1994. Whilst the provisions for removal contained within the
Act were similar to those to be followed by a Local Authority
with Designation status these were weakened by subsequent case
law and the constraints contained within Government Circular 18/94.
6.3 A further effect of providing a Traveller
site, especially such a large site, is that it attracts relatives/friends
of the site residents who then illegally encamp in the surrounding
areas; not just to visit but also to go about their activities
until they are moved on/or business activities have ceased. Family
occasions: weddings, funerals, christenings etc arising from residents
on the site can also result in large numbers of Travellers suddenly
coming into the area and camping illegally.
It is perhaps pertinent to ask whether the Gypsy
and Traveller Accommodation Commission will take such factors
into account when determining the Traveller accommodation needs
in an area. Will the onus be put onto those Local Authorities
who previously did not provide sites to look to providing the
new transit stopping places?
6.3.1 With regard to provision of transit
Unless military precision is employed
in travellers moving around the country then many more transit
places than numbers of Travellers will be required in order to
ensure that sufficient places are available in any locality to
meet demand at any time.
Family groupings and difficulties
with compatibility add further to the problem of providing temporary
accommodation at short notice.
How many caravans could be accommodated
on such toleration siteslast year in the Wakefield MDC
area there were illegal encampments comprising up to 100 caravans.
How can you prevent the locations
becoming permanent residential sites (as has happened to the Gypsy
Sites provided under the terms of the Caravan Sites Act 1968)there
would be difficulty in applying to the Courts for eviction from
a recognised toleration site and where would you evict them from
such a site to?
How do you manage these encampments,
enforce the collection of fees, prevent theft or vandalism of
the facilities providedif it was so simple these people
would use the Caravan Club Touring Sites at sites throughout the
countrythey choose instead to park illegally, presumably
in situations where there is business available locally and to
pay nothing for staying there.
6.4 The greatest difficulty, however, would
seem to be in identifying suitable locations for such toleration/transit
sites due to local opposition and the Planning process.
6.5 There is emphasis in the document for
Travellers and the settled population to be treated equally with
the same rights and responsibilities. Whilst this is an appropriate
principle to aspire to, there can be difficulties in practicethe
gypsy population is a closed community, people use multiple names
and identities, enforcement can be difficult/impossible with people
on the move.
6.6 It is suggested that facilities including
skips for refuse should be provided. Whilst I can appreciate a
case for containers/bags for household waste to be provided, most
of the waste left on illegal sites is trade refuse arising from
business activities eg tree loppings or waste taken away for a
fee such as tyres or even asbestos. It would seem inappropriate
for the Local Authorities to provide facilities for trade refusethe
settled community do not have such facilities provided free of
6.7 There is emphasis throughout the document
that there are insufficient authorised sites available, which
in essence, it is inferred, is the reason for problems arising.
Section 2.7 of the document states that on average,
there have been 800 more caravans on unauthorised sites than in
January. In the Wakefield area the difference tends to be more
far ranging with numerous encampments throughout the summer months
but little or no activity in winter.
6.8 Whilst there may be some migration from
the Wakefield Gypsy Site, it tends to be on a temporary basis,
with pitches being reserved (and therefore not available for re-letting)
for up to six weeks until the Travellers return. There has been
occasions when such residents have left a vacant but reserved
pitch to then encamp illegally some 10 miles away in another part
of the Wakefield MDC area. This exemplifies the range of difficulties
in assessing and addressing the scale and the needs of the situation
both locally and on a national basis.
7. ODPM STATISTICAL
7.1 Wakefield MDC does participate in the
collation and subsequent submission of the above information,
and will continue to do so.
7.2 A comprehensive database of statistical
information on numbers of caravans, families etc is maintained
on a daily basis. This helps to highlight seasonal trends and
identify vulnerable locations. This has assisted in the effective
allocation of resources at peak times.