South of the River – Which Came First?

Compass-SouthComment logo 2The saga of Michael Maloney’s attempt to create a small gypsy / traveller site in Hunslet Carr came to an end recently with the report of the planning inspector, who backed the Council’s decision to refuse Mr Maloney planning permission.

I don’t want to go into the case in great detail, but the report threw out some interesting findings which got me thinking about the old conundrum of the chicken and the egg.

The main reason for refusing permission in this case was that the site was too close to the M621 motorway and anyone living there would suffer unduly high levels of noise and air pollution.

Fair enough, people shouldn’t have to live close to motorways. Or to put it another way, motorways shouldn’t be built so close to houses. But look at the map – the M621 runs close to hundreds (thousands?) of residential properties in Leeds.

The plan identifying Mr Maloney’s land in this case clearly shows houses on Ebor Terrace that are just as close to the motorway. Just a few metres further back from the road lie the Parnabys, Woodhouse Hill Road, Nursery Mount, Blakeney Grove, the Longroyds, Cambrian Terrace and Cleveleys Court to name but a few.

So it seems you can build motorways close to housing, but not housing close to motorways.

Where does this leave the new Lane End Primary School? It’s been built on the site of the old South Leeds Sports Centre … right next to the M621. It’s been designed to face away from the motorway to reduce noise impact, but there will still be several hundred small children playing outside breathing in whatever comes out of our exhaust pipes.

I once stood outside the sports centre for a couple of hours. I hadn’t been barred, it was the open day to re-launch the centre when we won that all-to-brief reprieve. I was running a stall promoting Hillside and when I packed up I found that everything that had been outside on the table was covered in a film of dust, quite a thick film actually. This dust and the unseen particulates will land on the children in their playground.

Going back to the gypsy / traveller site, the Inspector recognised that Mr Maloney was aware of the poor amenity (it’s a planning term) of being so close to the motorway and was happy to accept it. Perhaps because he had stopped at many unsuitable sites, both official and unofficial.

Councils have a duty to provide sites for gypsies and travellers. Somehow they always seem to be out of the way, at locations where no one else wants to live. The Leeds site is at Cottingley Springs, half way up Geldard Road towards Gildersome. It is miles from any shop or other amenity, on a windswept hillside. The new temporary site in Hunslet is located between the gas holders and a retail park (but one without a supermarket on it). The site in Bradford used to be (and maybe still is) next to a gun club’s outdoor shooting range. Lets just say that not all the bullets stayed within the range.

Looking at things from the gypsy and traveller community’s point of view it’s all rather perplexing. You are not allowed to stop anywhere that isn’t an officially sanctioned site, but these are in pretty grim locations. If you buy a piece of land that’s not in the best location, you get told that you can’t stop there because gypsy travellers shouldn’t have to live in grim locations. It seems like a Catch-22.

The problem is that there aren’t enough sites for gypsies and travellers. It seems to me the solution is not to expand existing sites, but create more small sites within our neighbourhoods. That way there is a chance for communities to mix and integrate instead of gypsies and travellers always being cast as ‘other’ and sent to live apart from the rest of us.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

2 Replies to “South of the River – Which Came First?”

  1. It’s crude, but more or less true, to say that we were all gypsies and travellers once. Who are we, to try to deny the opportunity for people to settle, in a society that only recognises settlement as a valid passport to citizenship?
    The denial of planning to Mr Maloney strikes me as being very much in the same spirit as the treatment of travellers in Basildon. If so, it is a disgrace and Leeds planners should be ashamed to have ceded to prejudice. If not, it only serves to illustrate – as Jeremy does in his piece – the inequitable application of planning law, and the capricious power of the State.

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