As cabinet member for equalities at Adur District Council, I am writing to comment on your article (Herald, January 16) about the reaction to the plans to build a gypsy transit site in Chichester, in co-operation with all of the other West Sussex local authorities.
Frequently, when incursions (which are mostly seasonal) are experienced locally, people are outraged that Sussex Police seem powerless to take ‘any’ or only ‘limited action’. Yet people need to understand that unless a public transit site is made available in West Sussex to which such travellers can be directed, the police are unable to use their legal powers to move them on.
This lack of a facility has caused the loss of many public places, such as recreation grounds and sports facilities, to public use for periods of time, and something that your councillors have been exercised about, and on which they have been working in partnership with Sussex Police for some time to find a solution. So, in making this recent decision to support the development of the new site, councillors across West Sussex (not just Adur and Worthing) have taken into account the success of the East Sussex transit site, Bridies Tan, near Lewes, which has reduced similar incursions in that county dramatically to single figures each year.
In the article, Mr Burstow and Ms Smith Powell make a number of points:
– The travellers won’t appreciate it and will destroy it.
– They don’t pay tax so why should we accommodate them?
– The transit site does not represent good value for money.
– Local taxpayers will end up footing the bill.
– Councillors have ‘no idea’ and it is a waste of time and money.
In response, I would say:
– The new site will be managed by West Sussex County Council, which already successfully manages many permanent traveller sites around the county, which of itself will prevent abuse of the site.
– Travellers will have to pay to use this site, and for the facilities they use, they will be contributing to its maintenance.
– Yes, the taxpayers will foot the bill, but we need to understand the cost of not doing it.
– When considering the annual costs that have been experienced over the past years of taking legal action to evict travellers from public land even just in Adur and Worthing, the cost of developing this site and ongoing maintenance fades into insignificance.
– So, far from councillors having ‘no idea’, the opposite applies. Your councillors have made an informed decision with the intention of reducing the annual spend on removal of such incursions which in the longer term will mean less pressure on the public purse.
Finally, experience elsewhere has shown the value of sites such as this, which will go a long way towards tackling local animosity towards travellers, the majority of whom cause no problems in the community where they live.
Those who are resident in West Sussex already contribute through paying council and other taxes and their children go to local schools. We all have an obligation to address the needs of the whole community of which they are an integral part, and as local councillors, that is what we try and do to the best of our abilities.
Cllr David Simmons
cabinet member for health and well-being
Adur District Council