Controversial proposals for investment in Fern Hill traveller pitches on the table

Politics / Wed 22nd Jul 2015 at 11:30am

Fern Hill LanePROPOSALS to refurbish and bring derelict pitches back into use at an established permanent Traveller site in Harlow have been published.

Harlow Council and Essex County Council are proposing to apply for national funding* to rebuild 12 derelict pitches at the Fern Hill caravan site. If a bid is successful, both Councils also plan to match fund the investment by allocating £70,000 each to upgrade existing pitches at the site. A report outlining the proposals is due to be discussed at this Thursday’s (23 July 2015) Harlow Council Cabinet meeting.

A report commissioned in 2014 by the Essex Planning Officers Association predicted that up to 2018 an extra 387 new authorised Gypsy and Traveller pitches are needed in Essex with a minimum of nine new pitches required in Harlow. The same assessment also predicts that an extra five new pitches will be needed in Harlow between 2018 and 2023.

The two permanent Traveller sites in Harlow at Fern Hill Lane and Elizabeth Way are owned and managed by Essex County Council. The Elizabeth Way site provides 21 pitches and the Fern Hill site has capacity for 24 pitches. Currently 12 pitches at Fern Hill are in use but 10 require extensive refurbishment and a further 12 pitches have been derelict and unused for more than 10 years. There are currently in excess of 30 families waiting for pitches on the Harlow sites.

Those living on authorised permanent Local Authority-run sites pay Council Tax, rent and utility bills.

If agreed Harlow Council, as a registered housing provider, will apply for the funding on behalf of Essex County Council. The County Council will be responsible for implementing the refurbishment works and for the management and maintenance of the sites once the works are completed.

Councillor Emma Toal, Harlow Council’s Portfolio Holder for Youth & Community, said:

“The Fern Hill site, which is owned and managed by Essex County Council, has been part of our town for many years but it has deteriorated and as a result now requires substantial investment. We are re-assured by the County Council that its management of the site will be proactive going forward, working in partnership with other agencies such as the police, and that it will do all that it can to ensure that it provides both the facilities required, and the conditions necessary to address the needs of all members of the community.

“This is about working together with Essex County Council to refurbish derelict plots at an established permanent Traveller site. This is to meet the projected need for pitches for Travellers who choose to be part of the settled community. This has been discussed for a number of months and follows our call to bring pitches at Fern Hill up to standard and appropriately managed. This proposal will help meet obligations up to 2018, and contribute to future demand for extra pitches, by using an existing site rather than having to find new sites elsewhere in the town.

“Councils have to make provision for sufficient pitches to meet planning obligations or they could face a legal challenge as part of developing their Local Plans, as has happened in other areas in the County.”

“It is well-known that there is a lack of authorised pitches for Travellers across the UK. For nearly 18 months Harlow experienced what can happen as a result of this issue not being addressed, when the town had 109 different unauthorised Traveller encampments. When we go back to the high court later this year about the injunction, it is important we demonstrate we are exploring every avenue to address the issue, and I hope other Councils in Essex follow our example.”

Councillor Roger Hirst, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Customer Services, Libraries, Planning and the Environment, said: “Following the recent events in Harlow with unauthorised encampments, we are working closely in partnership with Harlow District Council to bring 12 derelict plots back on line to provide much needed homes for the Gypsy/Traveller community.”

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4 Comments for Controversial proposals for investment in Fern Hill traveller pitches on the table:

2015-07-22 15:10:01

No Emma! What Harlow experienced was a lack in will or leadership to do anything about illegal encampments. The bill for cleaning these up has fallen on Harlow Taxpayers for what can only be described as sheer incompetence! It is clearly not helped by elected Labour Councillors standing alongside banners saying "Travellers welcome here". Not one single ticket or attempt to gain any of our taxpayers money back has been made by this Labour Administration. An utterly shameful example of neglect in being responsible with taxpayers money. That said getting these permanent pitches back into proper use is long overdue!

2015-07-23 11:07:09

Have you credited Google Earth for the photo????

2015-07-25 06:38:04

'Lack of will or leadership'? You forgot to mention the unprecedented legal action, the first time at that scale anywhere in the country, and still being cited up and down the country. Rather than tinkering around the edges, decisive action was taken, lead by Harlow Council. This needs to be balanced with making proper provision, in line with our planning obligations, and tackling the issues at Fern Hill. Leadership is about taking the insults and quietly getting on with addressing the issues, not just throwing brickbats from the sidelines.

2015-07-25 23:44:01

As long as Harlow, at long last, makes an effort to meet its commitments to the Traveller community.

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