Coventry & Warwickshire

Gypsy sites in Warwickshire: Searching and talking

Abandoned restaurant site off the A46 in Warwickshire
Image caption One of the possible sites is a former Little Chef off the A46

Romany Gypsy Noah Burton has a jaundiced view about the public consultation being undertaken by Warwick District Council over where to set up new sites in the area.

He doubts the council will listen to the views of the travelling community.

"They haven't done in my lifetime, and I'm 48," he said.

The council needs to provide a total of 31 pitches for caravans across the district.

It has identified 20 possible sites for those pitches, and will decide on the most suitable once the consultation is over.

Councillor Les Caborn believes the consultation, which runs from 14 June until 29 July, will give the council "an understanding of what local people think".

He said: "I believe these proposals set out an approach which will enable the district to continue to grow and thrive, at the same time as protecting and enhancing many of the things that make Warwick district a great place."

Loose dogs

Mr Burton knows where he does not want the pitches to be.

Image caption David Hurst said the Guide Dogs national breeding centre is worried for its animals

"We don't like living next to a waste disposal tip, we don't like living underneath an arch on the motorway, we don't like living on an industrial site.

"I guess what we like is what everybody else likes - somewhere where you feel safe and secure and the kids can play, and reasonably pleasant, and obviously with the doctors and the school and everything else there," he said.

The areas being considered include a former council depot and two former Little Chef sites off the A46.

One is next to the Guide Dogs national breeding centre at Bishop's Tachbrook, which opened two years ago.

Manager David Hurst said they have already raised their own particular concerns at a preliminary meeting between the council and local landowners.

He said their main concern is the potential for loose dogs from the site getting access to their breeding kennels bringing diseases with them.

"It would be a magnet with the brood bitches we have on site at any one time.

"I'm sure the council are listening to the concerns people have and I know they are aware of our particular concerns in terms of the investment Guide Dogs have made in this site," he said.

Lorna Coldicott, a senior planner with the council, said there are already a number of criteria it has to follow when choosing a site.

These include access to a GP surgery, school and public transport, and avoiding areas where there is could be "an adverse impact on important features of natural or historical environment."

A new criteria added by the government states that the location must also "promote peaceful and integrated coexistence between the site and local communities," she added.

'Happy with anything'

Emma Nuttall, from Friends, Families and Travellers, a national organisation that works with Gypsies and travellers, said there is such a "desperate shortage of sites" that it isn't helpful to be "prescriptive about criteria."

"Gypsies and travellers are so desperate for sites that often people are really happy with anything they can take," she said.

Figures from Department of Communities and Local Government show the total number of Gypsy and traveller caravans in England in January 2013 was 18,730.

Of these 6,930 caravans were on authorised socially-rented sites, with 9,100 on authorised privately-financed sites.

It said the number of caravans on unauthorised developments on land owned by Gypsies and travellers was almost 1,840.

There were 860 caravans were on unauthorised developments where the land was not owned by Gypsies and travellers.

Ms Nuttall said people have been talking about this issue "for 25 years or more" and that urgent action is now needed.

"What we need is for sites to be delivered rather than just talking about it," she said.

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