Posted by: Colin Wiles09/01/2012
The HCA has announced a £47 million funding package for 600 new Gypsy and Traveller pitches in England, to be delivered by thirty three housing associations and local authorities. The 71 “projects”, will include new and refurbished sites - that’s £78,333 for each pitch, more than double the grant being made available to conventional housing.
In the past, local authorities and housing associations have been very reluctant to meet their legal and moral obligations to provide pitches, despite strong encouragement from people like Naisha Polaine at the HCA. You can see why: public opposition to new sites can be both fierce and racist, and many housing associations are reluctant to risk their reputations by getting involved, although some associations have built and run very successful sites – Luminus and Broadland in the Eastern region are two examples.
But if housing associations exist to meet housing needs can there be a group of people with greater needs than Gypsies and Travellers? All the research shows that the health and life outcomes of this community are shocking. They have the lowest life expectancy of any ethnic group - 50 per cent die before their 39th birthday and 70 per cent fail to reach the age of 70 - and educational achievement is poor. They struggle to get access to decent healthcare and are prone to diseases such as anxiety, asthma, bronchitis, depression, and long-term illness. A recent Radio 4 programme highlighted how amateur boxing at junior level is dominated by Gypsy and Traveller kids, but very few manage to make the grade as adults, mainly because their diet is often bad, reliant upon takeaways that are high in at and salt and low in roughage.
The HCA’s £47 million programme sounds generous, but when you set it against the £18 million it cost to deal with the disastrous Dale Farm evictions, and the fact that there are around 18,000 Gypsy/Traveller caravans, of which 4,000 are on unauthorized encampments it is a relatively modest, albeit worthwhile, investment. But I can see trouble ahead. The HCA has not published details of the location of sites but the provisions within the draft National Planning Policy Framwork for local and neighbourhood planning may make it easier for nimby-motivated campaigns to prevent Traveller sites being set up. As always, it could be the pleasant, middle class areas that are more successful in preventing new development, so the danger is that new sites end up where they have traditionally been sited - next to motorways and sewage farms, not very healthy spots by any measure. I would urge any housing association or local authority involved in site selection to make sure that they do not provide sites in unhealthy and remote locations. They also need to stand firm in the face of local opposition and work hard to get the message across that the Gypsy and Traveller community needs support and encouragement, not suspicion and isolation.
From Inside out
An independent look at the housing sector and beyond from Colin Wiles