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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 08:41 GMT
Council denies Gypsy prejudice
Woodside Caravan Park
There are 25 plots at Woodside
A council locked in a five-year battle to evict Gypsies from land they own has denied that its stance is politically motivated.

The Woodside Gypsies say they have set up a "pioneer community" on the land they bought near the hamlet of Hatch in Bedfordshire.

But Mid Bedfordshire District Council says planning permission for the site does not extend to 12 months of the year and wants them to move on.

The eviction is scheduled to take place on Monday 4 November.

Open in new window : Woodside Gypsies
Picture gallery tour of Woodside

Brian E. Collier, leader of the district council, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the issue is simply one of planning permission.

He denied the action was politically motivated, adding that some of the group had already left the site.

The council, Cllr Collier added, would wish to encourage Gypsies to buy land and settle down "but on land with the type of permission that is required".

"[This site] had permission for touring caravans, they are not expected to stay there more than a few days. There is only permission for touring caravans between April and October.

"This [Gypsy] site is a permanent site and has been a permanent site since the first enforcement action in 1998."

Cllr Collier stressed that some of the group had left the site since the injuction had been obtained in June.

And he added: "Some of the families have been in discussions with the council about other land. But unfortunately that land was not to be found for sale."

Cliff Codona of the Woodside Gypsies
Cliff Codona: Leading campaign
In 1997, 28 Gypsy families clubbed together to buy the land which has planning permission to be a caravan site.

It followed government advice in the early 1990s that Gypsies should buy land to manage themselves.

Crucially, though, the land the Woodside Gypsies bought only had permission for use from April to October for touring caravans.

The council says that Gypsies did not adequately seek or subsequently have approval for any work which would turn a former holiday park into a permanent settlement.

And earlier this year, the families lost this battle in the High Court and the council set an eviction date of 1 November, though this is expected to be set back.

The gypsies say that they are victims of discrimination.

"We came to Woodside because we wanted freedom to be who we are but also respect from the rest of society," said one, Cliff Codona.

"The rest of society doesn't want us to roam up and down, not least because that means we don't pay taxes.

"So when we do try and settle, we come up against a horrific situation like this.

"I'd be the first to admit that we got some of this wrong, not least in our understanding of the law.

"But evicting us will send us back in time, and we will resist it absolutely."

See also:

14 Feb 02 | England
27 Jun 01 | Scotland
28 Nov 01 | Scotland
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