FAR from forcing unwanted travellers’ sites unnecessarily on local communities, Huntingdonshire District Council’s decision not to abandon its consultation will help ensure there are not too many sites in the wrong places, the council said.

FAR from forcing unwanted travellers' sites unnecessarily on local communities, Huntingdonshire District Council's decision not to abandon its consultation will help ensure there are not too many sites in the wrong places, the council said.

But it is adamant that some provision will have to be made to meet demand from the travelling community. The trick is to put sites in the best places, HDC emphasised.

The consultation was originally required under the East of England 'regional spatial strategy', which was formally abandoned by the new coalition Government in Whitehall.

But HDC decided to let the consultation phase of the process continue even though there was no longer a requirement to do so.

But the consultation on a score of sites across the district - either surplus council-owned land and sites suggested by landowners - generated howls of protest from potentially affected communities and enraged Shailesh Vara, MP for North West Cambridgeshire, in whose constituency most of the sites lie.

HDC has promised that no pre-determined number of sites would be taken forward, that residents' views would be taken into account, and that no decisions would be made by the council until the Department for Communities and Local Government has reviewed the regulations and guidance.

However, HDC insists that it needs some sort of policy if it is successfully to resist inspectors granting temporary permissions in places the council thinks are wrong, as has now happened on a number of occasions.

Two appeals - over refusals of consent for sites at Somersham and Bluntisham - are awaiting hearing, and the council insist that it needs a policy in order to defend its decisions.

Mr Vara, who has had detailed discussions with senior councillors and planners, has welcomed HDC's announcement, saying it provided all the assurances he had been seeking.

"I asked for and have received from the council an assurance that this will be a genuine and proper consultation, fully taking onboard the views of the local community.

"This is crucial. People have spoken in their thousands and I am pleased that their voices have been heard. They have made it clear that communities come before quotas."

He accepted the council's view that it needed to make some provision for travellers' sites. "But it's vital that there's a proper and genuine consultation process in trying to find them," he said.

HDC has always insisted that most of the sites in the consultation are completely unsuitable for travellers' sites anyway, but it still needed the public's views to help identify sites that could be 'sustainable'.

The current consultation runs until July 30.