COUNCIL chiefs are paying tens of thousands of pounds on consultants to draw up a list of where traveller sites should be built across Basildon, Billericay and Wickford.

Peter Brett Associates, a planning and development consultancy firm, will get at least £44,000 to carry out a gipsy, traveller and travelling show people site survey.

The firmwill then draw up a list of where 111 new caravan pitches should be developed across the borough over the next 20 years.

There are already around 145 pitches in the borough – 123 of which have planning permission.

Now questions have emerged over why the expense is needed, and why council planning officers cannot carry out the work instead.

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David McPherson-Davis, a Ramsden Crays parish councillor, who campaigned for Dale Farm to be cleared for ten years, said: “The question of why the council planning and legal department do not have the capability to do this research needs answering.

“On the face of it, you would think they could do this with existing staff and avoid the extra expense.

“It will be interesting to see where the sites go and the size they are. Based on previous experience, there is likely to be opposition.”

Peter Brett Associates, which provides planning advice to the public sector and private developers, will now prepare a report which will feed into a local development plan.

The latest survey follows on from an earlier £40,000 study into the amount of pitches needed by consultants Opinion Research Services, which identified how many new pitches would be needed to be built to cater for a predicted three per cent population growth. The appointment has raised fears too many sites will be developed across the borough after more than £7million of taxpayers’ cash was spent clearing the illegal Dale Farm site in Crays Hill in 2011.

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Kerry Smith, leader of Basildon Ukip group, is not happy either.

He said: “Basildon has already done so much in terms of traveller site numbers and we have the site planned at Gardiners Way, which has planning permission.

“Ukip will be resisting any more pitches being built because of numbers that have been foisted on the borough from outside agencies. Other councils need to do their bit and this seems a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Peter Brett Associates is likely to be paid more than £44,000 in the long run.

Once the council has prepared its development plan, it has to be ratified by a planning inspector at a public inquiry expected to last several days.

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The council has also agreed to pay the firm a daily attendance rate of £1,000, plus £690 a day for any preparation ahead of the inquiry.

Richard Moore, councillor responsible for planning, said: "From time to time, the local authority uses different contractors judged to be competent in their area of specialism and, in this case, Peter Brett Associates was selected as being suitable to undertake this particular project.

“It is also important to ensure the council has independent advice on these matters in case of challenges.”

Opionion Research Services said 257 new pitches were needed by 2031.

However, that included 146 to accommodate the 80-odd families evicted from Dale Farm in 2011, plus their future families.

Basildon Council bosses concluded they should not meet the need for these families as they had come from outside the borough.

The remaining 111 pitches needed were based on the future population growth of the 145 existing pitches in the borough, based on a growth rate of three per cent a year