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Travellers' sites

Ian Paul
Ian Paul
Editor, Politics Show South

Local authorities have an obligation to identify land for Gypsy and traveller caravan sites.

Yet almost every one that is proposed meets often fierce local opposition.

Video: Travellers

Like the one currently under consideration at Littledown in Bournemouth.

Currently an empty field, the site is set to be developed into offices and a park and ride in the future.

The council wants one section of it to become the transit site in summer 2009. It is a one-off, emergency measure for 36 caravans.

All well and good you might imagine.

But the site is just behind a home for 50 retired nurses, and they are not happy about the proposal.

Ploughed field
Proposed site in Bournemouth

Part of the problem is that there are not enough authorised sites for travellers to park their caravans on, so unauthorised encampments spring up. Which are often the ones that cause all the opposition.

According to the South East England Regional Assembly (Seera), around 700 caravans in the region are on such sites.

Unauthorised encampments, it is estimated, cost councils in England 18m a year.

The advantages, as Seera sees it, of getting travellers onto authorised sites are that the they get better access to education and healthcare, they will be paying council tax, rent and rates, and the number of unauthorised sites will go down.

And the frequent argument is that not all travellers are bad apples and it is wrong to blame them all for the actions of a few.

Not an argument that carries much weight at the Retired Nurses Home. One of the residents explained their objections to the Politics Show: "How do we know which sort are coming? I mean would you like it at the end of your garden."

The nurses are so against the site that they have taken on a planning consultant to help them fight the proposal.

Basil Burton
People think we've got two heads and we've got horns
Basil Burton

It all sounds very familiar to Basil Burton.

As president of the Romany Rights Association, he also fights planning applications, but on behalf of other Gypsies who have been turned down by local councils.

"People think we've got two heads and we've got horns. The position is there's good and bad in everyone.

"I've spent 29 years in the fire service and I never had one person in 29 years say, 'Basil Burton you can't come in here because you're a gypsy.'

"They were only too pleased for me to come in and put the fires out."

Councils, of course, find themselves in a bit of a bind.

On the one hand they have to provide these sites, but on the other they are almost universally unpopular with local voters.

Most of the parties agree that the "few bad apples" explanation is true, but how do you ensure that it is not the bad apples that you get in your back yard?

Also on the programme...

National Apprenticeship Week

Plumber
Tough times for certain trades

When Gordon Brown visited Southampton this week, he made much of the launch of National Apprenticeship Week.

The government is promising 21,000 new apprenticeships as from April 2009 in hospitals, schools and local government.

Advertisements with Sir Alan Sugar singing the praises of apprentices have been everywhere on TV and radio.

But at a time when all the news is filled with job losses, will there be proper employment opportunities once the apprenticeship is over?

Many apprenticeships are in the building, plumbing and electrical trades - trades which have been particularly hard-hit by the recession.

Is it all just a way of keeping people off the unemployment statistics, or a sensible investment in up-skilling for when better times return?

Why not send us an email and join the debate.

And join Peter Henley live on Sunday 1 March 2009 from 1200 GMT on BBC One.

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