A site should be provided for members of the travelling community who find themselves passing through Central Lancashire, a report has recommended.
Preston, Chorley and South Ribble councils commissioned a study of the housing needs of gypsies and travellers up to the mid-2030s.
It concluded that a so-called “transit site” should be found to accommodate travellers who might otherwise set up unauthorised encampments, like those established on Preston's Moor Park last year and Penwortham Holme in 2017.
But the report did not specify a location for the development and noted that it was not feasible to extend any of the three existing sites in Central Lancashire. It suggested that the new site should be large enough to accept ten caravans at any one time.
South Ribble has experienced the largest number of unauthorised traveller activity over the past five years - with anything up to 20 caravans being brought onto land without permission.
Michael Bullock, a partner with the Arc4 consultancy which carried out the study, said travellers had been surveyed to see if they had a preferred location in the region.
“Their response is usually to say: ‘Anywhere - as long as there’s something for us’,” Mr. Bullock told a meeting of the Central Lancashire joint advisory committee.
“Locations of unauthorised camps are mostly simply [as a result of] land being available.”
He also suggested that it might be possible for the three councils to follow the lead of some local authorities elsewhere in the country which have decided against establishing an official transit site and have instead chosen to direct incoming travellers to suitable pieces of development land where they can stay temporarily.
The meeting heard that family occasions like weddings and funerals were amongst the most common reasons travellers needed somewhere to stay in the short-term.
Committee member and Preston councillor, Susan Whittam, said travellers also often stopped off on the way to events such as the annual Appleby Fair.
“I’m also the clerk to Farington Parish Council and in that area, we’ve had experience of travellers coming through, having nowhere to go and then pulling onto green space. The patterns of travel are often quite consistent, so it’s about finding the most suitable location [for a transit site]," Cllr Whittam said.
Members were also told that Central Lancashire should expect to have to have to provide an additional four traveller pitches - most likely in the Preston area - by 2035.
The figure was calculated on the basis of the expected turnover and demand -and after a comprehensive survey in which every traveller household in the region was contacted.
The additional provision - which does not necessarily equate to completely new sites - would accommodate the “cultural” preferences of the travelling community.
“There is a general move away from pitches to bricks and mortar housing,” Mr. Bullock explained.
“But we have to pay heed to the fact that there is a cultural need for many people within the community to live in caravans.”
The report forecast that around half of the children currently living in traveller households in Central Lancashire will want to establish households of their own by the time they are 18.
Meanwhile, councils have also been advised to monitor any opportunity to set up a site for travelling showpeople in the area.
The meeting heard that there has been a “longstanding desire to establish a showman's yard”, but that no evidence had been established for the need to create one at this stage.
***The Friends, Families and Travellers organisation was approached for comment on this story.
“THERE IS CLEARLY A NEED IN SOUTH RIBBLE”
South Ribble is the only one of the three Central Lancashire district and city councils which currently has no traveller sites in its area.
Housing consultant Michael Bullock said a report into the needs of the travelling community in Central Lancashire had found that the situation was unlikely to change over the course of the next two decades.
Whilst the borough is the most likely of the three in which an unauthorised temporary encampment would be set up, he said there was no evidence of established traveller communities wanting permanent pitches in the district.
“It is surprising, but I’m not aware of any applications from traveller families that have come through in South Ribble,” Mr. Bullock told the Central Lancashire Joint Advisory Committee.
“We’ve found over the years that important longstanding associations with particular areas [dictate] where there are particular concentrations of a travelling population. [Central Lancashire as a whole] is actually very light in terms of the number of gypsy travellers living on sites.”
But speaking after the meeting, Penwortham West county councillor David Howarth said any plans for a transit site for travellers passing through Central Lancashire should focus on the border areas between the three councils.
“There is clearly a need in South Ribble, because sites keep being set up. You can almost plot the route that travellers take through the borough.
“We’ve had to block off the playing fields at Howick and there have been repeated problems at Penwortham Holme.
“As well as damaging the pitches for junior football teams, thousands of pounds of damage was caused to allotments in the area.
“We have to recognise that the traveller community exists and they need somewhere to stop,” County Cllr Howarth added.
In Central Lancashire, there are currently three traveller sites:
Leighton Street, Preston (permanent, authorised) - Lancashire County Council is currently consulting on selling the site, but with a condition that its future use must be guaranteed for the travelling community.
Rosemary Lane, Preston (unauthorised)
Hut Lane, Chorley - (temporary, authorised) - permission was last year granted to extend the life of the site until 2021, while a new permanent plot is built on land at Cowling Farm
Households - several households can be accommodated on a single pitch
Pitch - land for caravans, vehicles and an amenity block
Site - can comprise one or more pitches