Second cash boost for travellers’ site

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A WIGAN traveller camp is to get a second six-figure upgrade in little more than a year.

The £146,000 Government windfall – which comes on top of £200,000 national improvement grant for the same Bickershaw site last year – will secure its future.

The Whitehall announcement came just weeks after a council report said that official gypsy facilities in the borough needed expanding.

But this money will improve facilities at the existing 16 pitches at the Bickershaw Lane camp – all occupied by one extended family. It means that the local authority will now be unlikely to have to sell off its one and only council-owned traveller camp.

Communities Minister Andrew Stunell said the money will help traveller families find sites where they want to live, and foster better relations with existing communities and councils.

But one local councillor today called into question the need to spend yet more cash, in straitened times, on a site which benefits so few people.

After the funding announcement, the authority issued a statement saying: “The site at Bickershaw Lane, provides 16 pitches for gypsies and travellers, and the long-term future of the site has been at risk due to the poor condition and design of the amenity blocks and the high utility costs which residents have to pay.”

It said the grant would pay for replacement amenity blocks with higher levels of insulation, more modern facilities and a direct electricity supply.

The statement added the bid was part of the council ‘s attempt to secure the long-term future of the site, which may involve developing alternative ways of managing the site to attract private investment/charitable funding, ensuring no financial cost to the council.

But independent councillor Bob Brierley said: “One has to ask whether this is the best use of resources in such difficult times.

“It’s only last year that £200,000 was spent on the Bickershaw site. How come it needs so much more, so soon, for a site which benefits one extended family?

“If the council can get money to do up a travellers’ site it’s about time it brought residents’ facilities up to date too.”

The £60m nationwide fund will provide and improve 750 traveller pitches nationwide. Mr Stunell said: “This funding will help provide sites in a way that reflects local need in consultation with the local community.

“We are ending the failed system where Whitehall attempted to dictate where sites went. Instead, we have brought back fairness to communities, putting travellers and the settled population on a level playing field. ”

The toilet and shower lock at Bickershaw date back to the site’s 1974 opening, and it was feared that if money was not found to improve the facilities, the cash-strapped council might have to sell it to a private company or a traveller syndicate.

A recent report to Wigan Council suggested the borough needed to double its number of gypsy sites.

The first local Gypsy and Traveller Policy is being drawn up to generate greater understanding between settled and transient communities.

Specialists from the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities have calculated that the council should be providing at least 39 new traveller pitches and an additional 23 fairground showman winter spaces across the borough within the next three years.

These would be in addition to the three authorised sites at Bickershaw, Goose Green and Aspull Common, which offer a total of 43 pitches (the latter two are privately owned).

Part of the aim is to stop unauthorised use of inappropriate land by travellers.