Leeds GATE

Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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Living next to a Traveller Site – Really so bad?

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  May 18, 2015 |

Traveller SiteMost Councils, Leeds included, have a recognised unmet need for Traveller sites.  Put simply they need to build more (and approve more private sites) and this needs to happen sooner rather than later.  This brings us back again to question of how we approach the whole issue and indeed attitudes towards Gypsy and Traveller sites.  There is a key question, which we cannot and should not shy away of posing; why are they really so bad?

We at GATE are not naïve to some of the common answers, which range from the more to less reasonable. Our frustration regards the immediate and uncritical assumption that a Traveller site, however modest or well managed, will be unavoidably negative and problematic.  Recent instances in Leeds show this attitude remains ever present. There is currently a planning appeal going through the system which has sadly attracted a number of familiar comments and objections.  Most distressingly, some of these views have been expressed by well-established Councillors and most concerning is the bold assertion that they would not want to live next to a Traveller site.

It is that precise opinion; that they would not like to live next to a Traveller site, which demands consideration and challenge.  Firstly, it is worth observing that such a comment could and should not be made about any other community or ethnicity.  We can recognise that there might be material planning differences between a Traveller site and most bricks and mortar residential sites.  What cannot be assumed, though often will be, is that any such difference is automatically negative and undesirable.  We should constructively explore anxieties but feel confident enough to challenge misplaced fears by posing that clear question: what is the fear?

As long as there remains a climate in which politicians and public can uncritically assert objection without need for further explanation, meaningful progress on developing new sites will be difficult.  As we would accept, some concerns may have validity, such as perhaps in relation to noise, green belt restrictions or visibility.  However it must be recognised that such problems are common to most forms of development and can in many cases be mitigated.  That is precisely why the question over fears must be posed, both to filter out less reasonable objections and to identify the genuine issues, in planning and community terms, to be overcome.

Sadly we too often see a vicious cycle where unchallenged assumptions about a Traveller site’s undesirability are repeated and amplified, reinforcing destructive views.  If this attitude is not productively challenged then we have unjustly conceded that Traveller sites are unavoidably problematic and should not be sited near other houses.  The challenge is to create a more virtuous circle, where concerns over Gypsy and Traveller sites are meaningfully debated, hopefully allaying less well substantiated fears and mitigating others.  Let’s change the debate and let’s start by pushing for an honest discussion about what really is the problem with a Traveller site.

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