WEST Sussex councils have been awarded a £630,000 grant from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to help develop a transit site in Chichester.
Last December, all the councils across West Sussex agreed to enter into a multi-agency partnership agreement to develop a transit site, in a bid to manage and reduce unauthorised encampments.
This was after Chichester District Council identified a potential site, on land at the council’s Westhampnett Depot.
Planning permission is now being sought to change the use of the land from depot use, to use as a transit site to accommodate up to nine short-stay pitches.
Residents were given the chance to view the proposed plans and speak to the design team earlier this month. They will have a further chance to comment on the plans as part of the planning application process.
The full planning application has been submitted this week and full details will soon be available to view on the council’s website www.chichester.gov.uk/planning.
A decision is expected to be made on the application within the next few months.
Councillor Josef Ransley, cabinet member for support services at Chichester District Council, says: “We are very pleased that we have successfully accessed funding towards the scheme from the Homes and Communities Agency. The remaining costs will be split between all of the councils across West Sussex.
“It is a delicate balance we are facing. We have to balance the needs of the local community and the needs of the gypsy and traveller population.
“Our district alone had 51 unauthorised encampments in the last year and there were more across the county which incurred significant cost and disruption to the taxpayer and local land owners.
“Research and evidence shows that there is a clear gap in provision for a transit site to help manage unauthorised encampments.
“We believe this transit site is the best solution to assist with the problem of unauthorised encampments as it will provide an appropriate stopping site for the gypsy and traveller community, reduce disruption to our local communities and provide the police with greater powers to take action.
“We want to make sure that local residents are kept informed and involved throughout this process.
“It was incredibly useful to hear their thoughts at the recent exhibition that we held and they will have a further chance to comment during the planning application process.”
Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council, said: “All councils across West Sussex are working on this project with the aim of helping to reduce the disruption to the taxpayer and local land owners caused by unauthorised encampments, as well as providing the police with greater powers to take action.”
However, residents and Westhampnett Parish Council have questioned the decision to build the site in Westhampnett, asking why it was considered the only appropriate place in the whole county.
A petition with more than 352 signatures against the plan was submitted when Chichester District Council discussed the bid in December.
Speaking at an exhibition of the plans earlier this month, former county councillor Mike Hall said: “I think the real failure of the whole system is the siting of the site itself. This was the wrong site in the wrong place.”
If given the go-ahead, the site will have secure boundaries and screening, with a barrier controlling access to the land.
A manager’s office, external lighting, storage facilities, CCTV coverage and perimeter fencing will also be provided.
West Sussex County Council would run the site and co-ordinate all enforcement activities across the county.
If planning permission is granted the scheme is expected to be completed by March 2015.
Following the introduction of a similar site, East Sussex has seen a significant reduction in the amount of unauthorised encampments.
Further information about the scheme has also been placed on the council’s website at www.chichester.gov.uk and can be found by searching ‘transit site’.