Helen Page (Head of Countryside and Community Development Group) and Pal Sandher (Head of Gypsy and Traveller Service) were in attendance for this item.
1. Mr M Hill, OBE (Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services introduced the report that set out the key features of the draft Pitch Allocations and Site Management Policy, the development of a new draft Gypsy and Traveller Service Fee Setting and Charges Policy for presentation in November 2019, and by the end of the financial year, an Unauthorised Encampment Strategy.
2. Ms Page informed the Committee that the draft Pitch Allocation and Site Management Policy was the first of three policies that would be presented to the Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee over the autumn period ahead of one public consultation.
3. Mr Sandher said that respondents from the 2017 consultation highlighted their concerns regarding the approach taken by Kent County Council and wanted the policy to be realigned to mirror the social housing policies adopted by the district and borough councils to improve outcomes for the Gypsy and Traveller community. The newly proposed draft Pitch Allocation and Site Management Policy directly complemented the existing social housing policies and promoted independence for applicants. The enforcement process had also been strengthened to ensure that residents fully understood their obligations and the expected site standards. Following comments received from the Committee, the consultation on the draft Pitch Allocation and Site Management Policy was planned to begin in December 2019.
4. Officers responded to comments and questions as follows:
(a) Mr Sandher informed Members that the transit population was catered for within the allocation process and they received the same opportunities as anyone else within the Gypsy and Traveller community. Kent County Council also provided an Unauthorised Encampment service to the county, however, those who fell within that category still had access to apply for pitch allocation. Ms Page informed Members that Members were due to receive a report later in the year that looked at the policy for Unauthorised Encampment, however, the Pitch Allocation and Site Management Policy primarily focused on the eight settled Gypsy and Traveller sites that KCC owned and managed.
(b) Mr Sandher confirmed that an easy-read version of the Policy was in the process of being produced and this would be published ahead of the public consultation. Other methods of communication to encourage feedback from the Gypsy and Traveller communities were also being developed, including roadshows.
(c) The work carried out by the Gypsy and Traveller Service was governed under the Housing Act 2004 and Mobile Homes Act 1983. The Pitch Allocation and Site Management Policy, and the actions taken within the Gypsy and Traveller community were governed by legislation.
(d) In response to queries regarding the actions that could be taken by the Gypsy and Traveller service to evict/ take possession of a pitch from someone who is engaged in criminal activity, Mr Sander informed Members that there was a significant difference between what housing providers could do and what the Gypsy and Traveller service could do. The Gypsy and Traveller service was governed under the Mobile Homes Act 1983 which for social housing (bricks and mortar), the act would not apply. However, the Gypsy and Traveller service were strict in managing and maintaining the settled sites and did have the power to evict and take recovery of a pitch if that person is found guilty of engaging in criminal activity.
(e) The officers noted Members request to ensure that the consultation clearly reflected the primary objective of the consultation.
(f) Mr Sandher confirmed that an allocated pitch could not be bestowed to a persons next-of-kin. When an individual reached the age of 18, they would be able to apply for a pitch and would have to go through the same banding system. This would provide those who have a need for a pitch to have equal opportunity.
5. It was RESOLVED that the draft Pitch Allocations and Site Management Policy for public consultation beginning in December 2019, be noted.