VOTE: Is West Sussex County Council right to consider selling off gypsy sites in a bid to save cash?

Council chiefs have said an idea to sell off its gypsy sites is not about making a ‘quick buck’.

A total of ten sites for gypsies and travellers owned by West Sussex county council are up for review, including sites in Westbourne and Easthampnett near Chichester.

A report presented to the community services select committee said running and managing what was in fact social housing was not a core activity of the county council. As a result, it might not have the breadth of housing management skills found in large social housing providers.

The committee was told the council had no legal duty to develop and maintain such sites.

The select committee agreed it would not object to either of the two alternatives, but called for ‘full consideration’ of the consequences.

It heard the budget needed to run the sites had traditionally been around £150,000 a year, reducing to about £50,000 as a result of restructuring.

Cllr Pete Bradbury, cabinet member for public protection, said: “It is about finding the best outcome for the sites on a long-term basis, whether by retaining ownership and leasing out the management, or whether we will get a better long-term solution from an organisation that has the well-being of the gypsy and travelling community at heart.”

Cllr Steve Waight said the county council did not have the expertise in house to deal with this. Somerset County Council had recently sold all its sites to a company owned by gypsies.

Cllr Bradbury stressed that no decision had yet been made.

“If we decided disposal looked the best option, then we would have to consider very carefully how best to go about that,” he said. “We have not put a lot of time and thought into this yet, because we have not decided yet whether this is the best option. If we go down that route, I would have an obligation to get the best deal I could for the county.”

At the same time, there would have to be caveats relating to future use of the land, requiring appropriate experience in managing sites.

The report said WSCC continued to deal with illegal encampments throughout West Sussex, either on highways or land owned by the council.

Since April, 2011, there had been 40 reports of such encampments, and of these 15 resulted in court action being started, with the remainder moving off after service of an initial notice.

Only 15 of the encampments were gypsies and travellers, with the remainder being people choosing to live in vehicles or tents.