Travellers will be offered sites to avoid repeat of Dale Farm

£47m plan to provide hundreds of pitches
  • @NigelpMorris

Moves to create some 800 permanent sites across England for Traveller families will be announced today in an effort to defuse community tensions with settled residents.

Under the £47m initiative, new locations will be found from Cornwall to Co Durham for Travellers, preventing them from having to put their caravans on unauthorised land.

The strains that can follow an influx of Travellers into an area were shown by the clashes over the Dale Farm site near Wickford, Essex, which ended with the eviction of Travellers in October after a 10-year legal fight with Basildon Council.

There are believed to be nearly 19,000 Traveller caravans in England, about 20 per cent of them on unauthorised sites. The award of cash to local authorities and housing associations is combined with stronger powers for councils to remove illegal sites and to stop people applying retrospectively for planning permission.

Andrew Stunell, the Communities minister, told The Independent: "If there are enough authorised and approved sites for the Traveller population, there is no need for an unauthorised or illegal settlement."

He said: "We need to restore confidence in the settled community that there isn't one planning regime for them and a more relaxed regime for Travellers. They are often seen as 'getting away with it', which creates a large amount of friction with the settled community."

The money will be used to provide 884 pitches, of which 617 will be new and 167 will be refurbished. A further £13m is being set aside to develop further pitches. Ministers say that with previous planning laws Whitehall told councils how many sites to allocate to Travellers – a top-down approach that forced some councils to encroach on the Green Belt.

Mr Stunell declared that he was committed to tackling the "endemic discrimination" facing Travellers by making sure they enjoyed the same access as their neighbours to housing and services.

He pointed out that at the moment Travellers have low levels of educational achievement, poor standards of maternal health and also have limited access to financial services.

"All of this creates a cycle of deprivation," he said. "If you are at constant risk of being moved on by police, you aren't able to put down roots."