Frequently asked questions

 Who are Gypsies and Travellers?
Gypsies and Travellers are people who have a nomadic way of life. This includes people who have stopped travelling for education reasons or due to age. The definition includes Gypsies and Romany ethnic groups, Irish Travellers and New Age Travellers. Their way of life means that they travel the country staying for various periods of time in different locations in order to earn a living. In some cases this has been their way of life for many generations.

What do Gypsies and Travellers do for work?
Gypsies and Travellers work in a variety of occupations. Traditional patterns of work – such as landscaping, seasonal agricultural work, laying tarmacadam, motor trades and scrap metal dealers – are changing and the community has generally become more settled.

Do Gypsies and Travellers pay Council tax?
Yes. Gypsies and Travellers living on local authority or privately owned sites pay council tax, rent, gas, electricity and other associated charges.

Why is much of the media coverage of Gypsies and Travellers negative?
There are often disputes between the “settled” community and Gypsies and Travellers over unauthorised development and encampments. The provision of more, well located authorised sites should reduce disputes between the two communities and lead to less negative coverage.  Many Gypsy and Traveller communities live in harmony with their “settled” neighbours, but such happy relationships are not newsworthy.

Where is the existing Gypsy and Traveller site in Stevenage?
The existing Gypsy and Traveller site in Stevenage is at Dyes Lane to the west of the A1(M). It is publicly run by Hertfordshire County Council and provides 14 pitches. Please note that a pitch is the space required to accommodate one household. The average pitch has space for up to two caravans.  The Borough Council is considering whether it needs to provide a second residential site for the Gypsy and Traveller community, and whether it should provide transit pitches.  If the answer to either of these questions is ‘yes’ then any proposals will be subject to full public consultation through the normal planning application (and possibly the local plan preparation) process.

What is a residential site?
Residential or permanent sites are authorised sites either provided by the council or owned by Gypsies and Travellers themselves. They are used as long term residences by Gypsies and Travellers.

What is a transit site?
Transit site are authorised sites for short stays by Gypsies and Travellers. They are provided on a permanent basis by local authorities and have basic amenities and services such as water supply, toilets, washing facilities, utility rooms and waste disposal. In some cases transit sites are provided on permanent sites.

What is unauthorised development?
Unauthorised development is land that is owned by Gypsies and Travellers but does not have planning permission to be used as residential or transit site.

What is unauthorised encampment?
Unauthorised encampment is land that is not owned by Gypsies and Travellers and is being used without the permission of the owner.

Are Gypsy and Traveller sites allowed in the Green Belt?
Not as a first option. Government policy allows proposals in the Green Belt where applicants can demonstrate that very special circumstances exist. The lack of suitable alternative sites could be put forward as part of the case to justify very special circumstances.

Can the council deal with unauthorised encampments?
If Gypsies and Travellers have gained unauthorised access to council land, officers will liaise with bailiffs and the police to have the Gypsies and Travellers moved from the site. If there is an unauthorised encampment on private land the council will be happy to provide advice to the land owner.

Does the council have a duty to move Gypsies and Travellers when they are camped without the landowner's permission?
No. If Gypsies and Travellers are camped on council land the council can evict them. If they are on private land, it is usually the landowner's responsibility. If Gypsies and Travellers camp on private land the landowner can talk to them to see if a leaving date can be agreed, or can take proceedings in the County Court under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 to obtain a Court Order for eviction. There must be a minimum of two clear days between the service of the document notifying the Gypsies and Travellers of the Court proceedings and the Court hearing.

What if the landowner decides to let them stay on the land temporarily?
Unless the landowner has (i) already obtained planning permission for a caravan site or (ii) is a farmer and the Gypsies and Travellers are helping with fruit picking etc the landowner could be in breach of the Planning Acts and the Acts dealing with the licensing of caravan sites. You may wish to seek further advice from the Council's Environmental Health section, which deals with illegal encampments.

What will the council do if the landowner fails to take the appropriate action to remove the Gypsies and Travellers?
If the landowner is in breach of any planning or license requirements, the council will take proceedings against the landowner to require removal of the illegal encampment.

I have seen Gypsies and Travellers camping on the side of the road and sometimes on parks or other council-owned land, what can the council do in these cases?
If the Gypsies and Travellers are causing problems they will be moved on as soon as is possible and reasonable. The council will consider each case on its merits. In all cases the site is visited and every effort made to make sure that the Gypsies and Travellers keep the site tidy and do not cause public health problems. This sometimes means that refuse collection facilities may be provided for this purpose.

Can the council remove Gypsies and Travellers from their land immediately?
No, the council must show that the Gypsies and Travellers are on the land without consent, make enquiries regarding the general health, welfare and children’s education, ensure that the Human Rights Act 1998 has been fully complied with, and follow a set procedure in terms of providing the Court with details of the ownership of land and the illegal encampment.

How long will it take for the Gypsies and Travellers to be removed?
This will depend upon the circumstances of each individual case. The council will need to take account of the issues outlined above as well as how soon they can obtain a Court hearing date.