Travellers need more sites - warning

DOZENS of new pitches for travellers are needed across west Suffolk if illegal encampments on private land are to be avoided, it was warned last night.

DOZENS of new pitches for travellers are needed across west Suffolk if illegal encampments on private land are to be avoided, it was warned last night.

A major regional assessment of traveller needs has revealed that between ten and 20 more pitches are needed in St Edmundsbury, between 15 and 20 more in Forest Heath and between 25 and 45 new pitches in the east Cambridgeshire district, which includes Newmarket and Burwell.

At present, council-run sites include 35 pitches in Beck Row, near Mildenhall, and eight at Burwell, near Newmarket.

But the call for additional pitches comes while Suffolk County Council is in the final throws of selling off the former traveller site on Rougham Hill, Bury St Edmunds, which was put on the market for £2.5 million.

The county council's decision to sell the site, which closed in 1999, was yesterday criticised by Suffolk-based traveller and gypsy campaigner Kevin Hilton, who currently lives on a site in Kessingland.

Mr Hilton said selling off the Bury-based plot was a major mistake and warned that if additional pitches were not made available, travellers would be forced to stop on sites illegally.

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The 50-year-old traveller said: “The answer is to put up more sites. In terms of the site in Bury, it is almost up and running and it is not something that could not be fixed up. To my mind selling it is a waste of money.

“In St Edmundsbury, there is nothing at all there for travellers. You can't stop, they just move you on. That is the way it is.”

He said travellers needed places to stop and felt forced to stop on other people's land or places such as children's playing fields if there was not an authorised site nearby.

“We don't want that, the police don't want that and the owners of the land don't want it. The answer is simple - build more sites, don't sell them off.”

The regional study, carried out by Anglia Ruskin University and Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, revealed that there are about six unauthorised caravans in St Edmundsbury, 21 in Forest Heath and 22 in east Cambridgeshire.

Ian Real, who runs Real Estates East Anglia, which runs the site at Kessingland, is currently at loggerheads with the county council over its selling off of the former traveller site in Bury and also over a £207,000 Government grant for the Kessingland plot which, he claims, has not yet been forwarded on to him by the county council.

He said the council should not be selling off the Bury site until the outcome of the regional study was known.

But Jane Storey, the county council's portfolio holder for resources, finance and performance, defended the sell-off by saying the former traveller site was in a poor state, had been repeatedly trashed and was not in the right location - either for travellers or those who lived in the vicinity.

She added: “We did talk to St Edmundsbury Borough Council about this particular site. There are better places to put traveller sites.

“It is better to choose sites in consultation with travellers and the community - to find out where they want it to be.”

A spokeswoman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which has legal responsibility for traveller provision, said the contents of the recent regional study would be “considered in the coming months”.

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