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Are travellers ‘part of our community’ or ‘a massive problem’?

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Divided opinions were shared at a meeting where councillors were asked to approve an extension of a consultation asking for residents’ opinions of traveller sites around the borough.Councillors at the West Norfolk Council special meeting on Thursday mainly came to an agreement on the decision to approve a further six-week consultation to take place between May 10 and June 21.A previous consultation was opened by the council in January, which closed on March 8. This saw 150 residents and councillors have their say on the proposed sites.

A second consultation has been launched

This formed the first part of the consultation process for the Gypsy and Traveller part of the Local Plan process.However, two councillors raised some concern with the proposals, with one saying that the proposed traveller plots would be “concentrated” in certain areas. Chris Crofts, a conservative councillor for the Emneth and Outwell ward, argued that the proposed plots were mainly allocated to his and neighbouring parts of his ward.

West Norfolk Council cabinet member Michael De Whalley. Picture: West Norfolk Council

“Yes, Upwell is a big village, but the area where the proposed sites are, are near an area called Small Lode.“It’s three-quarters of a mile long but the sites where travellers occupy are in a 400-metre strip.“These sites are concentrated in one area.”

Cllr Jo Rust said that gyspsies and travellers are “part of our community”. Picture: West Norfolk Council

He added: “Gypsy and travellers are family orientated, they will allow their family to go on site, but I couldn’t go on there. They just wouldn’t have that, they are family people only.“I do not think we have handled the job correctly and I shall be voting against.” However, Cllr Jo Rust, who is also cabinet member for people and communities, argued against Cllr Croft’s points.She said: “Councillor Crofts, you wouldn’t be able to go on that site because you are not a gypsy, traveller or travelling showman. So you’re absolutely right you will not be welcome there. “Gypsys, travellers and travelling showmen are part of our community and we need to make accommodations within that.“This is about a consultation. I think its very admirable and hope our local community will be able to say that their views have been taken into account.” Conservative councillor Julian Kirk whose ward covers Walsoken, West Walton and Walpole Highway, said that “the West (of the borough) is really poorly treated”.He said: “We have a massive problem with travellers. We have one site that the police won’t go out to without a van. “Parish councillors and residents are up in arms about this. “The west is getting really poorly treated with travellers. I have nothing against them personally, their way of life and how residents are treated is because of lots and lots of problems over there.”Cllr Michael De Whalley said: “I am part of the local plan task group, I have seen the hard work and professionalism put in by officers in a challenging time frame.“The locations (of the traveller sites) have been chosen to keep those communities cohesive and together.”Councillors carried the vote, meaning that the second consultation will take place.

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