A NEW Essex-wide group is being set up to help improve travellers’ lives and save taxpayers’ cash.
Essex County Council is spearheading a move to set up the Essex Countywide Traveller Unit.
The new group will be a multi-agency team involving councils, police, firefighters and health and education experts, which will focus on addressing issues on Traveller sites throughout Essex.
This will include regular visits from fire crews to improve awareness and safety on sites, following concerns about the huge number of fires that break out.
There are also plans to offer education classes on sites to address the number of Traveller children pulled out of the school system at a young age. Parents could also be allowed to sit in on these classes.
John Jowers, county councillor responsible for communities and planning, who is leading the group, said it was important not to change the Traveller culture, but to improve the chance of children.
He said: “Our view is that it’s better to take education into the site. We can’t change their culture but obviously we believe it is still very important.”
John Jowers, county councillor responsible for communities and planning, who is leading the new group, said: “It is just common sense.
“We have copied a model from Northamptonshire County Council which has proved hugely successful there. We are basically saying we don’t want another Dale Farm.”
The team will look at the management of Essex County Council’s Traveller sites, while also establishing a clear and consistent approach to managing unauthorised camps, he said.
Mr Jowers said plans were already in motion before the Dale Farm eviction, but it was now even more important that measures were put in place to prevent a similar situation.
He added: “With a few councils it will be a budget issue, so we will not get confirmation of all participants until April, but the feedback so far has been excellent.”
Mr Jowers said he had already visited the Hovefields site in Wickford, where talks were “really positive and Travellers seemed to be happy with the idea”.
Mr Jowers said the implications for people living near Traveller sites would be positive, as they would be able to access more information about what might be going on at the sites.
Councils and organisations that join the group will jointly fund the group and it is expected to cost councils about £7,000 a year. However, councils are yet to sign up to the new unit.
Basildon, who had Dale Farm on its patch, and Southend are still to decide whether to spend the money and join the group.
However, Rochford Council has signed up for three years at a cost of about £22,000.
Keith Hudson, councillor responsible for planning and transport, said the council was very enthusiastic about the scheme, but stressed the authority would retain control over decisions regarding sites.
He added: “It seems to make a lot of sense to put the whole thing under one umbrella so there is consistency across all bodies and across the county.”