Plans for a traveller transit site have been given the go-ahead by Reading councillors.

A planning application will be submitted for a traveller transit site near to the Re3 recycling centre at Smallmead, under new plans from the council to reduce the impact of illegal encampments on Reading’s communities.

The council’s policy committee last night (November 1) agreed to submit a planning application for a transit site with caravan pitches for gypsies and travellers at the south Reading site.

READ MORE: The cost of tackling traveller encampments in the past five years

Adele Barnett Ward, lead councillor for neighbourhoods, said: “This has been a very long process. What we have is not the end of the process by any means.

“Even if we get planning permission, it is not going to solve all the issues we currently have but it will help.

“It will be a better situation than we are currently in, the police will be able to use increased powers and  we will have a legitimate place for people to stop in Reading, which will be a really significant milestone in how we manage this part of our community.

“But we will still need a permanent site and we don’t have land within the borough. We are dependent on our neighbouring authorities being willing to work with us.”

The site would have seven pitches and accommodate up to 14 caravans.

It would help police to move travellers on from public land as they have powers to seize vehicles which refuse to leave but only if a suitable pitch is available within the local authority area.

Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) has spent more than £300,000 tackling unauthorised encampments in Reading in the past five years.

Reading Chronicle: PICTURED: Traveller encampment interrupts football matchPICTURED: Traveller encampment interrupts football match

Earlier this month, the council said there had not been one day over the past year without an illegal encampment in Reading.

Location issues

A potential obstacle to planning permission for a transit site at Smallmead is the location, which is on a flood zone and on the edge of the Detailed Emergency Planning Zone for the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Burghfield.

The Environment Agency has indicated to the council it will likely object to the application due to the flood concerns, while the risk from the atomic weapons site will have to be tested during the application process.

Additionally, the site is next to the Re3 recycling centre and a sewage treatment site, raising odour and public health concerns.

At the meeting, Conservative councillor David Stevens questioned why the council could not work out whether these issues can be overcome before submitting a planning application.

But officer Mark Warringham said this would not be possible, pointing out that the Environment Agency would not engage with the plans until an application is submitted to prioritise funding.

Cllr Stevens also questioned the £2.54 million cost of establishing the site.

He said: “For seven pitches, that comes out at £368,000 a pitch. You can buy a reasonably-sized house for that, I think.

“Even if we go with 14 caravans on those seven pitches, £181,000 per pitch. Is that right? That seems like an extraordinary amount to lay down some water, electricity and hardstanding.”

Explaining the estimate, council officer Daryn Inston said the scheme would include up to eight buildings, with each pitch having toilet and washing facilities, while costly work would also be required overcome the concerns from agencies.

The search for a transit site

Every local council is obliged under national planning policy to consider how gypsy and traveller accommodation needs can be met.

In 2017, RBC identified the need for 10-17 permanent pitches and five transit pitches for gypsies and travellers.

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The council identified a possible transit site at Cow Lane in 2017 but in the end this site was needed for a new school, River Academy, which is opening in September 2023.

After several reviews, RBC has now identified land at Smallmead as the only potentially-suitable site for a transit site in Reading.