A TRAVELLER advocate says the Romany community has lived in the BCP region for 600 years and has a right to a site after previous stopping places were built on.

Betty Smith-Billington, chair of advocacy group Kushti Bok, said many people do not realise that Romany Travellers have lived in the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole area for more than 600 years.

She said that local authorities have a duty to consider the needs of these communities as they do to other residents’ accommodation.

This comes as plans for a permanent traveller site were included in the BCP Council Local Plan draft.

The plan, if approved, would see a new site allocated at Branksome Triangle.

Bournemouth Echo:

The council highlighted the need for an additional site, as findings from an assessment commissioned by BCP and Dorset Councils found a need for a further 21 pitches in the area due to the ‘natural increase’ in the resident gypsy and traveller community.

A site at Mannings Heath is already run by BCP Council, but it is fully occupied and cannot be expanded.

Ms Smith-Billington said this site is still just a proposal, and that it ‘needs to be looked at for suitability as a site and to respect the needs of both Travellers and the local community’.

Ward councillors in the area raised their concerns about the plans, due to its location in a residential area and part of the site’s status as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest.

The plan is ‘not required’ to allocate a location for a transit site but said it can be considered outside of the local plan process.

The council said it would ‘explore opportunities’ for transit sites in the conurbation.

However, Ms Smith-Billington said such a site is ‘long overdue’, and in the past has criticised the councils for a lack of provision in the area.

She said: “A well-run transit site eventually saves money for the Local Authorities.

“Kushti Bok is in talks with BCP officials regarding the advantages and money saving, when Councils adopt negotiated, tolerated and temporary stopping sites for Travellers, who through no fault of their own cannot access the "Old Stopping Places" which have been barred or built on.

“Many councillors and the local community do not seem to realize that Romany Travellers have lived in this area for over 600 years, the Local Authorities have a duty to assess their needs as they do to other BCP residents’ accommodation.”