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Last Updated: Friday, 1 February 2008, 10:08 GMT
Site for sore eyes
Paul Siegert
Paul Siegert
The Politics Show South East

Traveller site
Gypsies and Irish travellers seek work and family contact
The issue of Romany Gypsy and Irish Travellers' sites is a contentious one. Not least in the South East. But now, in this region, the public are being asked for their views.

There are several thousand Gypsies and Irish Travellers in the South East but only 80% live on authorised sites.

The remainder occupy around 200 caravans, live on the side of roads, farmers' fields and in other, often unsuitable, places.

This can lead to friction with local residents and the authorities.

Everyone seems to accept there is a problem but what is the solution?

Romany Gypsies have been present in England for more than 600 years and Irish Travellers have lived here for many generations.

Both groups travel for work, cultural and family reasons.

They are recognised as being ethnic minorities and, although protected by the Race Relations Act, are the most excluded ethnic groups in the UK.

Opposition to authorised sites

Gypsy girls
A home is a home to a family, but what about an entire site of homes?

But whenever a council puts forward proposals for a new authorised travellers' site there is normally opposition from people living nearby.

The general feeling seems to be yes, we do need more sites but, not near "my home".

It is said that more official sites would allow Travellers and Gypsy families to have better access to schools and health care.

Those living on official sites would have to pay site fees and council tax.

And of course more permanent sites should lead to fewer illegal encampments which become expensive for councils to deal with and clean up.

Additional funding

In December 2007, the government made an extra £97m available to help local councils meet the housing needs of Gypsy and traveller families in their area.

Communities Minister, Iain Wright, said: "It is important that councils ensure there are enough authorised sites for travelling communities.

"A good supply of legal sites can break the vicious circle of evictions that is costly in terms of both local tensions and taxpayers' cash."

Seera review

Travellers field
Travellers own the land but no planning permission in place

So to find out how many extra sites are needed in this area the South East England Regional Assembly (Seera) is carrying out a review.

At the moment, in the South East, there are an estimated 446 authorised pitches and 174 unauthorised pitches and Seera has been advised that an extra 47 permanent pitches are required for East Sussex and Brighton alone.

But things are not so simple, when it comes to where they will be located.

When proposals to create a new transit site for Hastings were announced more than 3,000 people signed a petition opposing the plans, with local residents claiming not a single person supported the idea.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Hastings Council voted against the proposal.

Public consultation

East Sussex Travellers Forum
Travellers rights are subject of intense local debate

The public will be asked for their views on where any new sites should go.

Although it seems unlikely anyone will actually volunteer for one to be put near their home.

And as the wheels of democracy and government tend to move more slowly than those on a caravan, a final decision on where the new sites should go is not expected until 2010.

So on Sunday's programme we hear from Seera, those representing travellers and local residents who are opposed to new sites being built near their homes.

Also on the programme...

Load of hot air

Patio heater

People are being told to wear jumpers instead of relying on patio heaters in an attempt to cut carbon emissions.

This week. the MEPs backed a resolution calling on the European Commission to ban outdoor patio heaters.

At present, there are more than a million patio heaters in the UK, with the number rising all the time.

The smoking ban means more and more pubs and restaurants now have them and the hospitality industry claims a ban could cost them around £250m in lost trade.

Opponents of the proposed heater ban claim that plasma televisions actually produce more carbon dioxide than patio heaters, whilst its supporters say the heaters generate more CO² than cars.

What do you think?

Should we ban them, wear some extra thermal underwear and help save the planet or is the green lobby going too far?

Sunday soapbox

Another group of the region's workers comment on an issue of the day.

We would like to hear your views on any of this week's issues and put your questions to our live guests.

Do you think there should be more sites for travellers and gypsies? Text us on 07786 209252 or email us at politicsshowsoutheast@bbc.co.uk or via the link below.

If you have a question for one of our guests or would like your point of view included in the show or here on our website then please get in touch.

The earlier we receive your comments the more likely we are to get them on air. You do not have to wait until the show has started!

It is easy...

...to take part in the show. If you have an idea for an item, want to make your own report or simply want to comment on what we are doing then please get in touch via any of the links below or write to the Politics Show team at Politics Show, Lambent Productions, The Media Centre, 21-22 Old Steyne, Brighton, BN1 1EL.

The Politics Show for the South East, with Jon Sopel and Paul Siegert on Sunday 03 February at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.

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