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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 November, 2004, 23:59 GMT
MPs demand Gypsy site law change
BY Dominic Casciani
Community affairs, BBC News

Travellers site
Unauthorised encampments are potentially avoidable, say MPs
Councils should provide caravan sites for Gypsies to prevent illegal encampments and clashes with locals, says a Parliamentary committee.

The cross-party group of MPs called on the government to force councils to act - reversing a decade of policy.

The committee said there were some 3,500 Travellers with no legal place to stop in England.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said making councils provide sites was not necessarily appropriate.

The all-party report comes after a summer of rising tensions between unauthorised Traveller encampments and local residents.

According to the committee, which scrutinises the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), most illegal Traveller encampments are caused by a lack of places to stop.

Although ministers had said they were reviewing policy, not enough progress had been made, warned the MPs.

As a consequence, numerous communities and councils were paying for lengthy and expensive evictions against Travelling communities, they said.

Travellers say the system is biased against them. There has been an ongoing campaign to force councils to provide sufficient sites - something they had to do until 1994.

Councils reluctant

But the ODPM committee said few councils would voluntarily provide caravan sites because of the opposition of residents.

The settled community often finds well-paid work for Gypsies and Travellers, but too often refuses to find space for them to live.
Andrew Bennett, committee chairman

In turn, unauthorised or illegal encampments were causing "anger and frustration" among local residents.

Andrew Bennett, chair of the committee, said the situation would only improve if the government stepped in.

"Conflict between Gypsies and Travellers and the settled community has steadily escalated in recent years," said Mr Bennett.

"It is a disgrace. In a supposedly civilised society, people ought to be able to tolerate each other. The settled community often finds well-paid work for Gypsies and Travellers, but too often refuses to find space for them to live.

"The problem will only be resolved when the government requires all local plans to have designated land for Gypsies and Travellers, and all local authorities have a statutory duty to provide sites - and central government enforces this duty."

I don't wish any malice on travellers but it boils down to entitlement
Wendy, UK

The committee said sites should be small with room for no more than 18 pitches (caravans) because these would be easier to manage and would improve chances of integration with local communities.

The MPs argued that if the duty to provide sites was reintroduced, many Gypsies and Travellers would then move onto well-managed legal sites.

In turn, the police would be in a better position to move against illegal encampments because pitches could be more easily found elsewhere.

Any new sites should only be built where ordinary housing would be placed, said the MPs.

Many existing sites were too close to industrial areas and were too far away from essential services such as doctors and schools.

Housing Bill change

This year has seen a string of high profile unauthorised encampments and drawn-out attempts at eviction.

One of the most controversial and well known sites - Cottenham, in Cambridgeshire - remains embroiled in a court battle.

Ministers have just introduced an amendment to the current Housing Bill requiring councils to assess the needs of Gypsies and Travellers - although campaigners will welcome the committee report.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) said it would respond fully at a later date, but indicated it was unlikely to force councils to act.

"A duty to provide sites is not necessarily an appropriate solution," it said.

"A duty has been tried before and often did not produce sufficient or appropriate provision.

"A duty which relates solely to the Gypsy and Traveller community reinforces the view that they should be dealt with outside the mainstream housing system."

How legal Gypsy sites could be set up

Action against Gypsies is delayed
02 Nov 04 |  Somerset
'Effigy' gypsies unite at bonfire
31 Oct 04 |  Southern Counties

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