ESSEX fire service will spend £28,000 carrying out safety checks at travellers’ sites.

The county’s fire authority is proposing safety visits to 174 sites across Essex.

The move has been described a waste of taxpayers’ cash, but the service claims the visits help drive down fires on traveller sites.

The service carried out 44 visits to sites last year to give travellers advice, ensuring there were no obstructions to fire hydrants and making sure caravans were not parked too closely together.

The policy came into force after a number of traveller deaths related to fires.

There have been a handful of fire-related deaths at sites in the county, most notably at Dale Farm, near Basildon, where there was a fatal caravan fire in 2005.

Since the checks were adopted in January 2012, the service says number of incidents has fallen by just four.

Ukip county councillor Kerry Smith, who sits on the fire authority voted against the proposals.

He said: “This is a complete waste of money.

“Residents usually have to phone and ask for a fire safety check, so I’m not sure why travellers should have special treatment.”

From July 2011 to June 2012, the fire service was called to 23 incidents at traveller sites in the county.

Between July 2012 and June 2013, the figure was 19.

The authority wants a 50 per cent reduction in incidents over the next three years.

A spokesman for Essex County Fire and Rescue Service said: “We have a duty to keep all families safe, particularly those identified as being vulnerable.

“We have a range of early intervention programmes for all targeted wards where we have identified groups of people at risk.

“The cash also goes towards educational seminars for the Essex Countywide Traveller Unit.”

The £28,000 funding is set to be approved in the 2014/15 budget.