Prescott rules that Councils must find land for Gypsies

marksimonbrown mark at
Thu Mar 10 10:22:04 GMT 2005

Councils must find land for Gypsies 
Wednesday March 9, 2005
The Guardian
by Patrick Barkham

Up to 300 sites for Gypsies to buy and develop must be identified by 
local authorities after the government moved yesterday to defuse 
tension between villagers and Travellers. 

In the first use of new powers, John Prescott, the deputy prime 
minister, ordered Brentwood borough council in Essex to find suitable 
sites after it failed to plan for homeless Travellers living in the 

The directive, together with giving councils enhanced "temporary 
stop" powers to halt illegal camps, is aimed at easing conflicts 
between settled and Traveller communities over unauthorised sites 
springing up on greenbelt land or near villages and towns. 

Mr Prescott's directive was welcomed by Traveller groups but 
condemned by the Conservatives, who accused the deputy prime minister 
of "riding roughshod" over local planning laws with "arbitrary 
diktats" that would create camps in every town. 

A nationwide shortage of 4,500 pitches has arisen since the Tory 
government lifted councils' statutory duty to provide sites. The 
shortage has led to camps set up without planning permission in 
villages such as Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, and North Curry in 

Under the 2004 Housing Act, local authorities are not obliged to 
provide council-run sites but must calculate their Gypsy populations 
and identify land they can buy and develop for homes. 

In return, the government has given councils enhanced powers to stop 
the growth of unauthorised camps, while police can use new antisocial 
behaviour laws to evict Travellers once alternative sites have been 
found. The government is promising funds for new sites and will also 
enable housing associations to build and manage camps. 

Eric Pickles, the shadow local government minister, said: "Mr 
Prescott's response to travellers side-stepping planning laws is to 
let his regional quangos impose more Traveller camps on every town. 
Local councils will be forced to follow arbitrary diktats for new 
Traveller camps - imposed by unwanted and unelected regional 

Andrew Ryder, of the Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition, 
said: "Councils are only being asked to identify land that Travellers 
would have a chance of buying. They are not being asked to give the 
land to Travellers." 

Go on, Shift, Move
Over the last few years there have been a wave of evictions of 
traveller sites around the UK. Many traveller communities bought 
their own land on the advice of the then Tory government in 1994, and 
this "wave" of evictions comprises those who have seen the 
culmination of their pursuance of appeal procedures run their course. 
There are many traveller communities who, in the absence of proper 
legal advice, were scared into not appealing local authorities' 
decisions to not grant planning permission for their caravans and 
have abandoned land they bought years ago.

In the latest eviction, at Ridge near London, Twin Oaks caravan park 
was bulldozed and raised (6 Jan). Five persons, including a 
critically ill women of 72, were assaulted and two men arrested. Four 
mobile homes were wrecked.

Among property needlessly destroyed were two wheel-chairs, television 
sets, and countless household items and heirloom china.

The eviction, carried out by Constant & Co, cost Euro 250,000. Damage 
to property exceeds Euro 200,000. Two cases under Article 8 of the 
Human Rights Act are being prepared against Hertsmere District 
Council and Constant.

Meanwhile, travellers at Brookthorpe near Stroud were granted 
retrospective planning permission on human rights grounds for up to 
thirty caravans, on the basis of EU human rights legislation. The 
public inquiry into the Gypsy encampment in Minety, Wiltshire, 
finished at the start of March. Being a planning enquiry, the final 
decision rests with the Secretary of State John Prescott. The case 
could lead to a planning precedent in the UK if the Secretary of 
State rules in favour of the travelling community.

There are estimated to be perhaps as many as 40,000 people (made up 
of about 10,000 traditional travellers such as Roma and several 
thousand new travellers) who have no legal place to stay.

In 1994 the abolition of the provisions of the 1968 Caravan Act meant 
the statutory duty of local authorities to provide sites for 
traveller communities was removed. While central government 
encouraged travellers to buy their own land, local authorities up and 
down the country failed to offer adequate assistance to travellers 
with regard to the planning system and acquiring planning permission. 
Extreme marginalisation of travellers within the planning process due 
to their lack of access to information about how the planning process 
works, prejudice against travellers and official indifference to the 
position of this minority group by councils has been the cause (65% 
of local authorities had been revealed by a recent study to have no 
reference to travellers in the equality plans). As a result, many 
travellers have been forced to live on their own land without 
planning permission. 

Preparing a case for appeal calls on skills which few travellers have 
(the illiteracy rate amongst traditional travellers in particular 
mitigates dealing successfully with paperwork) and the costs are 
often very large. Many years of stress and strain are often involved -
 one group spent 12 years and many thousands of pounds before they 
managed to get planning permission. The effects on individuals of the 
stress of the planning process has led to marriage break up, 
depression based illness, despair and gross insecurity, impacting 
particularly on children.

With the success rate of initial planning applications by travellers 
being so low, as a rule, travellers have to have recourse to the 
appeal system, unlike the vast majority of the housed population. 
Half of successful appeals have tended to be for limited periods 
(temporary permissions).

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