MORE than £3million will be spent upgrading and expanding travellers’ sites in a bid to improve facilities and ease friction between communities.
Council chiefs have won £3,785,400 to refurbish facilities and add additional pitches at travellers’ sites in West Rainton and Drum Lane, Chester-le-Street, as well as four others in County Durham.
The cash has come from a new Government funding pot aimed at creating hundreds of new authorised pitches in the area.
It follows numerous complaints from people on Wearside and in Durham who say they are fed up with travellers setting up unauthorised camps at derelict land and by the roadside.
Glyn Hall, head of housing at Durham County Council, said: “We are delighted to get this funding, which will enable us to refurbish four of our traveller sites that are in urgent need of upgrading.”
The work will see a total of 115 pitches at modernised sites across County Durham.
Ministers said the improvement cash would offer a “fairer deal” for both travellers and the “settled community”.
Communities Minister Andrew Stunell announced the cash as part of a national £60million funding pot.
He said: “We are ending the failed system where Whitehall attempted to dictate where sites went. Instead we have brought back fairness to communities and putting travellers and the settled population on a level playing field.
“New authorised sites, with the support of local communities, will be treated on an equal footing as new bricks and mortar homes, with councils getting powerful financial benefits for building authorised sites where they are needed.”
The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) recommended cash offers of £47million to bidding councils and other organisations across the UK which will deliver more than 750 new and improved pitches.
Mr Stunell said the HCA would continue to consider new bids for the remaining £13million of the £60million budget.
He said the agency will also help those who had their bids rejected to improve and resubmit their offers so more pitches can be delivered over the next three years.
He added: “Through the Localism Act, the Government is introducing stronger powers for councils to tackle the abuse of retrospective planning permission.
“These strengthened powers are helping councils tackle any form of unauthorised development.
“The new authorised travellers’ sites will provide help to reduce the number of unauthorised sites, which create tensions between travellers and the settled community.”
Ministers believe the previous system was ineffective because traveller site funding was allocated but often remained unspent.
They also argue that by imposing top-down targets for traveller sites, councils were compelled to encroach on to Green Belt land.