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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 January, 2004, 10:47 GMT
East: The battle of Little Waltham
Deborah McGurran
Deborah McGurran
Political Editor, BBC East

A travellers site a few miles from the county town of Chelmsford saw a day of conflict and mayhem in January 2004.

Travellers site near Chelmsford
Travellers site near Chelmsford

More than 100 police in riot gear and 35 bailiffs struggled to take control of a travellers camp site.

The scene quickly resembled a pitched battle.

Stones and punches were thrown. Four people were injured ... four more arrested.

Fire crews were called in as hissing propane cylinders were strategically placed around the site.

Three bailiffs were hurt, one traveller, a young boy, was injured.

Some of the travellers had been there for years.

Land owners?

They say they own the land and their planning applications had been turned down.

Burning caravan
A day of conflict and mayhem in January 2004

But Chelmsford Borough Council said the travellers have been given enough time to move on.

It maintains the site was illegal and it was simply upholding planning laws.

The Council had offered to move vans to other legal sites but all offers to help them relocate the community had been rejected.

John Baron is trying to prevent travellers from buying greenbelt land.

The MP for Billericay is to meet the Prime Minster next month after his "Greenbelt Protection Bill" was blocked by the Government last year.

John Baron MP
John Baron to have a discussion with the Prime Minister

He aims to significantly increase the powers available to local authorities to deal with individuals who undertake unauthorised development on Greenbelt Land.

This kind of battle is not restricted to Essex especially as councils no longer have a legal responsibility to provide official sites.

With increasing pressures on budgets, the temptation is to provide less pitches, not more.

In 1994 the 1968 "Caravans Act" was repealed under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

Labour, then in opposition, did not support the move claiming it would create more problems.

More sites required

The Gypsy and Traveller community believes the present policy has increased the number of unauthorised encampments and relations between the settled and Traveller community have deteriorated as a result.

Research commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, "The Provision and Condition of Local Authority Gypsy/Traveller Sites in England, 2003", notes that within the next five years between 1,000 and 2,000 additional residential pitches will be needed.

On July 14, 2003 the Select Committee for the Housing Bill, recommended that the government introduce a statutory duty to provide or facilitate sites for Gypsies and Travellers.

There is growing cross party support for reform.

More than 90 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion supporting initiatives to increase site provision.

While the Institute For Public Policy Research has proposed the incorporation of Gypsy sites into the forthcoming new Regional Housing and Planning arrangements.

Politics Show East wants your views. Let us know what you think.

That is the Politics Show Sunday 01 February at Midday.

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