On Wednesday evening the Conservative Party released details of their new policy for gypsy and traveller pitches in the local plan. Deputy Council Leader Kevin Blake proposed the policy which will see all illegal pitches, wherever they are in the borough, legalised subject to meeting a loose criteria which has yet to be drafted. It means the plans which included specific sites that could be managed and allow for collection of council tax, will be scrapped. Instead there will be a free for all across the whole borough.
Councillors were not given pre-warning of the change in policy and officers were taken by surprise on the night. The Administration voted to defer all powers to shape the policy to officers who now have 2 weeks to work up a criteria that can be submitted to full council.
Basildon Labour Leader Gavin Callaghan explained,
“This plan is completely unworkable and legally unsound. Three weeks ago they wanted a hub. Back in June they delayed the whole process because they wanted a hub. They disliked our plan from March because they said having 4 sites across the borough was ‘sprinkling traveller pitches around the borough like fairy dust’. Now with just two week to go before the final vote, they have changed their minds again.
“Under the terms of their new plan, any illegal pitch, anywhere in the borough as of 18thOctober 2018, will be legalised. That means we will have 19 separate sites across Wickford, Pitsea, Basildon and Laindon. Only Billericay is spared.
“When we should be serving travellers acting illegally Section 61 notices to move them on, under the Tory plan, we will be serving travellers acting illegally application forms for the right to stay.
“This is a chaotic and shambolic way of forming policy which has become the norm under Andrew Baggot’s absent leadership. There has been zero consultation on the policy change. Residents will not rightly be worried that travellers illegally on land near them will be given legalised status inside a fortnight when this was never part of any proposal over the last 3 years. From the golf course to Langdon Hills, the Wick to Wat Tyler Park every single piece of public land, wherever in the borough it is, is now at risk from this change in policy.
“Labour does not support rewarding illegal activity. We took a zero tolerance approach to illegal encampments and pitches last year and we invested heavily in standing up for the settled community at Hovefields. No one pretends that it was easy, but we were winning the war.
“The Conservative Party’s decision to wave the white flag and surrender to the travellers acting illegally by rolling over and granting them legal status is a betrayal of law abiding citizens across the Basildon Borough and Labour will never support it.”