HUGE housing schemes in York could be blocked unless developers agree to include travellers' sites in their plans.
A report has warned that York’s Local Plan risks being delayed by a planning inspector unless new sites are identified to meet a shortfall of 59 travellers' pitches, following the withdrawal of controversial plans for sites at Dunnington and Malton Road.
The report to City of York Council's cabinet last night said consultants have concluded that none of the city's three existing sites are suitable for expansion, beyond existing proposals for an additional six pitches at Osbaldwick.
Consultants have suggested a new untried approach of using parts of the sites designated for permanent housing to accommodate the travellers as well.
“This reflects the direction taken in national policy, though it is potentially quite contentious and in some cases may adversely affect the viability and deliverability of these sites,” said the report, an addendum to a document written by council planning officials Martin Grainger and Rachel Macefield.
But it claimed the impact on viability would be diluted if a high threshold of 50 hectares was set for the housing sites, which would allow for a 15-pitch site on half a hectare. It says this would bring four prospective housing developments into consideration for travellers’ sites:
• East of Metcalf Lane at Osbaldwick
• North of Monks Cross
• Clifton Moor
• Whinthorpe, east of Heslington
It says landowners could be given a choice of on-site provision, providing a site on land in their ownership elsewhere or giving the council a commuted sum, which could pay for facilities to be provided on other identified sites elsewhere.
Developer John Reeves of the Helmsley Group described the proposal as “mind-boggling”, saying he believed any requirement to build a travellers’ site as part of a housing development would make it unviable, while a commuted sum would be a new tax on housing which would stymie efforts to build badly needed new homes at a price people could afford.
Osbaldwick councillor Mark Warters claimed the idea of making developers provide travellers’ sites if they wanted to build new homes amounted to “blackmail”
and claimed that if Osbaldwick was chosen for a second travellers’ site, it would lead to the ward having one of the biggest concentrations of travellers in Yorkshire.
Christine Shepherd, of York Travellers Trust, said it supported the council’s efforts - which were in line with Government requirements - to find sites to meet an identified need for more travellers’ pitches in York.
Meanwhile, other options being suggested by the consultants include conducting a thorough review of council-owned land and dialogue with other public landowners to identify potential sites, and offering promoters of new sites the possibility of the council buying the land or offering a partnership with site owners to ensure the delivery of new sites.
At last night’s cabinet meeting the Labour council leader James Alexander said the city had a moral, as well as legal, duty to provide sites for travellers, gipsies, Roma and travelling showpeople.
He added: “This is about jobs and homes for everybody, not just non travellers.”
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Dave Merritt, now cabinet member for planning, said using designated housing sites for travellers’ sites, or asking for commuted sums or land from developers was not the council’s preferred option, it had to be realistic about the need for travellers sites in a workable local plan.
He said the council would prefer to use privately owned land, council owned land, or even offer to buy land from private developers for travellers sites, but York is not the only area looking this other way of providing enough pitches.