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Page last updated at 11:57 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Gypsies and Travellers

Brigid McFall
The Politics Show
BBC London

Travellers site

A report suggests that London needs to double the number of sites for Gypsies and Travellers over the next five years.

London has a long heritage of Gypsies and Travellers dating back at least 500 years.

But a significant proportion of Gypsies and Travellers who live in caravans have no authorised place to stay and bring up their families.

London has a particular problem meeting the demand for Gypsy sites due to its shortage of open land.

In 1964 the Labour government introduced requirements for local authorities to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers.

This was taken away under the Conservative party in 1994.

Gypsies in London
One of the first references to Gypsies in London dates back to 1514.
From as early as the 17th Century Gypsies stayed in Norwood, Penge and Croydon Common. Historic Gypsy sites include Hackney Marshes, Abbey Wood - and Plumstead, Woolwich, Wandsworth and Wimbledon Commons.
The Gypsy connection can be seen in place names - Gipsy Hill and Gipsy Lane in south London, Gipsy Lane on Barnett Common and Gypsy Corner in Acton.

No authorised sites have been built in London since 1996 and as a direct consequence many unauthorised sites have sprung up.

Current government policy aims to increase authorised site provision for Gypsies and Travellers whilst ensuring enforcement powers are available to tackle unauthorised sites.

Meeting Gypsy needs

Since the Housing Act of 2004, the Department of Communities and Local Government has reintroduced the requirement for local authorities to feed into their regional plan an assessment of the need for Gypsy and Traveller sites.

A Gypsy and Travellers site comprises approximately 10-15 pitches.

A recent report into Gypsy sites was commissioned by the Greater London Authority (GLA) on behalf of London boroughs in response to central government recommendations.

The GLA estimates a 100% increase in sites is needed

It estimates that there needs to be 55 new sites for Gypsies and Travellers in London in the next five years. This would represent a 100% increase to the present stock.

The idea in setting up well-managed, authorised sites is to regulate the system and address the problem of the unsanctioned sites.

The GLA report has already identified - borough by borough - the number of extra sites required to meet the demand.

The question is - how will certain councils react?

Scarcity of land

Land is scarce in London and many councils are instinctively reluctant to bow to central planning.

Boris Johnson c/o PA Images
Boris Johnson is reviewing plans to double sites

In London, the planning rights fall into the hands of the GLA.

It is essentially the Mayor's decision whether he wants to act on the government's recommendations.

City Hall tells us that his decision will be "based" on the report that recommended a large increase in sites.

If that means doubling the number in London he might well have a fight on his hands.

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