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Ann Winterton: It might be worth mentioning that on the illegal encampment at Cranage, I inquired about the costs of some of the statutory duties. For example, the situation cost the police in Cheshirethis figure includes the pension contribution, which one must include£5,800. That does not include the cost of cleaning up the site, the environmental health officer and all the rest, which is a huge expense on the back of local council tax payers.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Lady has made some valid points. Options are available to local authorities to claim compensation from those who cause damage. The penalties are quite stiff, and it is a matter of using those enforcement powers to make sure that those who cause the damage and distress ultimately pay for those actions that cause such difficulty for many in the settled community.
Many local authorities have not responded sufficiently on providing sites to meet local needs in their areas in recent years. To be fair, however, some local authorities have done a great deal. Under the Housing Act 2004, local authorities will be required to carry out accommodation needs assessments for Gypsies and Travellers, as they do for the settled community, and also to draw up a Gypsy and Traveller accommodation strategy to ensure that need is met. We will issue guidance on how to carry out accommodation needs assessments in due course, but in the meantime we will seek to facilitate the sharing of good practice between local authorities and other players, and we will do all that we can to help local authorities find a way to share provision.
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Local authorities should identify land that could be used for the provision of new public and private sites, which is why it is important to place an obligation on local authorities to identify land as part of their planning process. Under the new draft Gypsy and Traveller planning circular, there is a requirement on local planning authorities to allocate sufficient land for sites, which is effectively a "duty". As part of the new planning process, local authorities will have to identify
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sites suitable for Gypsies and Travellers as part of their local development framework. The regional planning body will have to assess regional need for Gypsy and Traveller sites based upon local accommodation needs assessments made by local authorities