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Page last updated at 21:06 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Councils miss out on grants for legal traveller sites

Illegal travellers site
Illegal travellers site

Councils in the South West need to have four times more gypsy and traveller pitches by next year - but only four of the region's authorities applied for the funding they need to provide them - and only one of those was successful in securing a government grant.

There were 166 gypsy or traveller pitches in the South West in January last year, according to Government figures, but the region's 15 local authorities need to provide a further 654 to meet official targets.

Of the four authorities that applied for a Gypsy & Traveller Site Grant from the Homes & Communities Agency (HCA), only Torridge District Council was successful, while Plymouth, Mid Devon and Taunton Deane were turned down.

The £839,051 grant to Torridge will only pay for seven new pitches - at almost £120,000 a pitch - which still leaves the region with 647 more pitches to provide and fund.

If the extra pitches cost the same as the seven in Torridge, the bill to the region would be more than £77 million.

Rejected bids

The HCA's decision to reject Plymouth's bid has caused a furore, with the council protesting that it had submitted "a totally sound bid which took many months of hard work to put together" and that Government advisers had indicated the bid was a strong one.

"The council has made strenuous efforts over the last two years to identify suitable land for use by gypsies and travellers in order to fulfil our statutory duty as directed by the Government," a council spokeswoman said.

"We have been warned by the Government that if we fail to provide official sites then they could be imposed on us. If that happens, we would have no influence on their location and there would be no consultation with residents."

She added that the council was hoping to meet Government representatives at the earliest opportunity to find out why the bid had failed and what could be done to resubmit it for the next funding round.

Existing sites

According to official figures, Cornwall had 64 pitches for gypsies and travellers as of January last year while Devon had 33, Dorset had 14, and part of Somerset had 55.

But Cornwall has a duty to provide 225 more pitches by next year, Devon has to find and fund 309, Dorset needs 91, and West Somerset and Weymouth & Portland must provide 29 more between them.

It is unclear where the funding will come from. The HCA has £97 million available for the period 2008 to 2011, but that is for the entire country - and, if the cost of the Torridge pitches is typical, this region's needs alone would swallow 79% of that.

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