Lack of Gypsy sites makes a future Dale Farm 'inevitable'

The demand for new Traveller pitches is being badly underestimated, research reveals

The Government is underestimating the demand for new Gypsy and Traveller sites, exacerbating the already dire shortage and making "a future Dale Farm inevitable", according to research to be published this week.

In January, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) announced grants of £47m for 170 improved and 620 new pitches in a number of schemes across the country.

But according to information gathered from local planning departments and housing associations, fewer than 300 new pitches are likely to be built before 2015, when it is feared the funding will be withdrawn.

Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, has claimed that the HCA funding will reduce the number of unauthorised Traveller sites, which he says create tensions between Travellers and the settled community. But Michael Hargreaves, a planning expert and author of the research, said Mr Pickles was "either misinformed about the funding scheme, or is being disingenuous".

He added: "The mass eviction at Dale Farm in Essex was a direct result of the dire shortage of authorised pitches and created incredible tensions between the Traveller and settled communities. Yet the HCA funding programme, as it stands, can only make a future Dale Farm inevitable."

The research, due to be presented on Thursday at a conference attended by ministers from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), shows more than 80 per cent of local authorities that have received funding for proposed schemes do not have planning permission, which can often be difficult to push through in the face of local opposition.

The take-up of funding has been patchy. The report found that Essex, Kent, Cambridgeshire, Surrey and Hertfordshire had the most Gypsies and Travellers, but had been awarded only 4 per cent of the funding between them.

"There is a striking mismatch between need and where the money has gone," said Mr Hargreaves. "The Midlands, South-west, Yorkshire and the North-east have done reasonably well, but there have been few applications from London, the East and South-east, and much of the North-west."

A DCLG spokesman said: "Ministers are clear that the previous top-down targets for Traveller sites forced councils to encroach on the Green Belt, seriously harming community relations, leading to an increase in the number of unauthorised sites and meaning site funding was allocated but often left unspent.

"That's why we've allocated £47m towards the building of 620 new pitches, with more funding to follow. Councils will also get powerful financial benefits for building authorised sites that have the backing of the local community, through the New Homes Bonus."