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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 December 2007, 06:55 GMT
Planning shake-up of Gypsy sites
Travellers
The guidance calls for face-to-face consultation with travelling groups
Councils in Wales should find caravan sites for Gypsies and travellers, says new assembly government guidance.

The advice aims to open up how sites are identified and engage traveller communities with the planning system.

Environment Minister Jane Davidson said she believed the guidance would go a long way to resolving the difficulties.

A travellers' charity spokesman said they were "stereotyped as undesirable" and used as "whipping boys to kick the politicians".

The new planning rules guidance follows councils in England being told in November last year to find more sites for travellers, amid continuing rows concerning a string of unauthorised encampments.

The guidance is that local authorities in Wales should identify potential sites in advance, and can then consult local people before approving them.

It's almost axiomatic that if someone applies for a Gypsy or travellers' site, there's a large public opposition
Steve Staines, Friend, Families and Travellers,

Along with this, the assembly government wants to see Gypsy and traveller communities settle only on designated sites, and so reduce any potential friction with local communities.

A report by the Commission for Racial Equality last year said more legal sites were the only way of reducing racial tension and cutting the substantial bill for evictions.

'Human pass-the-parcel'

Environment Minister Jane Davidson said public consultations on sites recommended by councils would include face-to-face consultation with Gypsies and travellers.

She said: "We want to ensure that the Gypsy-traveller community play their part in engaging with the planning system too.

"Local residents will also be able to have their say through the Local Development Plan process."

In March this year, a senior North Wales Police officer called for more new travellers sites.

Assistant chief constable Ian Shannon said he was left depressed at the ongoing game of "human pass-the-parcel" with traveller groups.

He said travellers faced widespread discrimination and officers could be left as "piggy in the middle" between travellers and locals.

'Fundamentally racist'

Steve Staines, planning officer with Friend, Families and Travellers, a charity which runs an advice line for Gypsy and traveller groups, estimated Wales had 130 traveller families with no official plot on which to stay.

He said: "We feel that it's as fundamentally racist issue.

"Gypsies and travellers are stereotyped as undesirable people and they've been used in the past, locally and nationally, as a whipping boy with which to kick the politicians.

"One thing we do worry about is public opposition. It's almost axiomatic that if someone applies for a Gypsy or travellers' site, there's a large public opposition."

Mr Staines said evidence showed established sites caused few problems and the travelling community was no less likely to stick to the planning process than anybody else.

He added that his organisation had "plenty of examples of local authorities not meeting their duties" towards travellers.



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The guidance says talks with travellers are needed



SEE ALSO
Opposition to traveller site plan
07 Sep 07 |  Mid Wales
Police want new travellers' sites
07 Mar 07 |  North East Wales
Police defend travellers' rights
13 Jul 06 |  North East Wales

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