THE Gypsy and Traveller community has said it is “over the moon” after a local authority tabled proposals to significantly expand the number of pitches where they can live.
Shera Rom or Head Gypsy Billy Welch said Darlington Borough Council was continuing to set an example which authorities across the country should follow as plans to create 25 more pitches off Neasham Road were revealed.
While the council says it now has a five-year supply of such sites, giving it greater control over whether other sites should be developed, it states its proposal aims to ensure the community’s long-term needs are met.
Just last year planning documents submitted for smaller Gypsy and Traveller sites in the Neasham Road area highlighted there was a shortage of sites for Gypsy families in the borough.
The papers stated: “The council is relying on windfall sites such as the subject proposals to meet the target.”
Nevertheless, provisions for Gypsy and Travellers are considered to be relatively good across the borough and the North-East compared to many areas of the country.
A report by Friends, Families and Travellers earlier this year found while more than 1,696 households were on waiting lists for pitches, there were just 59 permanent and 42 transit pitches available nationwide.
Mr Welch said the proposed 1.4-hectare site, bounded by the existing Gypsy and Traveller site off Neasham Road, the Northern Echo Arena and the railway line, would make a significant difference for the community.
He said: “As Gypsies and Travellers we are over the moon by the news of the 25 extra pitches. There is a desperate shortage of pitches nationally because the Gypsy and Traveller population has expanded. It causes people to camp or pull somewhere where they don’t want to be and where other people don’t want them to be. These proposed pitches would solve that problem.
“It would be much easier for everybody if some councils followed Darlington council’s lead. They are doing an excellent job. We are the largest and the oldest ethnic minority in the town and the council understands and recognises there is a genuine need for pitches.”
Planning papers state each pitch would have its own amenity block and that the site would be laid out following Homes England recommendations.
Although the site is outside development limits, the council says it complies with its policies as it acts as an extension to the existing Neasham Road site. The council said it has also undertaken a noise assessment study at the site as it is close to the stadium. The documents state the authority also considers the site to be a sustainable location as there are educational, health and community facilities nearby.
A council spokesman added the site could be developed without impacting on nearby properties or harming the rural character of the area.