What are the ingredients for successful Gyspy and Traveller sites?
As a new report highlights the importance of providing sites for the estimated 150,000 members of the Gypsy and Traveller population, senior policy advisor John Perry explores what it takes to provide sites which work.
Last month came a reminder about what was claimed five years ago to be Britain’s biggest unauthorised Traveller encampment, when the local authority announced plans to redevelop the legal site that still exists at Dale Farm in Basildon. But protracted disputes like this are unnecessary and their costs could be avoided if we start working to make sure the 150,000 Gypsies and Travellers in Britain have somewhere decent to live – a new report argues.
Managing and delivering Gypsy and Traveller sites: negotiating conflict, by Jo Richardson and Janie Codona MBE, is published by CIH on behalf of JRF and De Montfort University. Its central argument is that conflict about where Gypsies and Travellers live is not only avoidable but that providing attractive sites is actually cost-effective, and that it should be an essential part of housing provision in an area.
The report is far from being a polemic on behalf of Gypsies and Travellers, however. Instead it takes a practical look at how sites currently operate across the UK and (partially) Ireland, identifying what works and what doesn’t. It shows that some councils have grasped the nettle by providing attractive, well-run sites where residents are engaged and neighbours have been consulted. At the other extreme, some pretend the issue is not there or will go away. They are the ones that tend to end up fighting lengthy and usually fruitless enforcement actions. In the middle, the majority of councils tick along, often having some authorised sites but not necessarily managing them well. As a result of insufficient action by government at both national and local levels, the authors argue that real housing need persists, and that it would ‘be difficult to find any other ethnic minority group in this country with such large numbers that are effectively homeless: Gypsies and Travellers are among the most excluded groups in British society’.
What’s to be done? The bulk of the report switches from negative to positive by highlighting examples of excellence and showing the lessons that can be derived from day-to-day practice in local authorities and housing associations that are running sites. The best examples – places like County Durham are singled out for praise – show how gypsies and travellers can work with providers to meet their accommodation needs and live happily alongside neighbouring housing areas.
What are the ingredients of such success? The report lists ten essentials for effective site management, ranging from having clear plans, policies and lines of accountability, to negotiating approaches to unauthorised encampments rather than making heavy-handed (and invariably expensive) evictions. It then looks at what’s needed to get more sites provided, arguing that this needs to form part of local housing needs assessments, with provision split (as it would be for conventional housing) between private and social sectors. On site provision there are eight ingredients for success, including collecting robust and defensible evidence of accommodation need and developing local political will and leadership. Indeed, on the last point the report has several examples showing how quiet political leadership has steered a way through local controversy and produced solutions that suit both residents and the wider community, and which mean that unauthorised camping in those areas should be a thing of the past.
The report is therefore a challenge to government at all levels, and to social housing providers, to take their heads out of the sand and ensure that Britain’s estimated 150,000 or so Gypsies and Travellers all have decent places in which to live. But very intentionally, by showing how this is already being done in some areas, and how, the report is an encouragement to political leaders and senior officers to take the issue off their ‘too difficult’ pile and get on with solving it. Those that want to do so will find plenty of material here to help them.