Churches slam Tories over plans for travellers

Tony Gosling tony at
Mon Mar 28 17:49:37 BST 2005

Churches slam Tories over plans for travellers -21/03/05

Churches have said the Conservatives are playing politics with people's
lives after the Tory leader unveiled plans to make trespass by travellers a
criminal offence.
Michael Howard claimed human rights laws were making it easier for
travellers to abuse planning rules.
A new Conservative advert states: "If you want to build a new home you have
to get planning permission first.
"But if you are a traveller you can bend planning law - building where you
like thanks to the Human Rights Act."
They claim it is putting the interests of criminal "chancers" before
hard-working members of the public.
However, the Churches' Commission for Racial Justice (CCRJ) said it was
"dismayed" by Michael Howard's threat to repeal sections of the Human
Rights Act so that Gypsies and Travellers are "unable to prevent evictions
even when they have nowhere else to go."
It called for politicians and the media to avoid demonising Gypsies and
"As Churches we believe in the need for dialogue and mutual respect. We
call for positive public education about Gypsy and Traveller life and
culture, in which Gypsy and Traveller communities should also participate.
This would do much to reduce needless hostility, and prevent parties
playing politics with people's lives," said CCRJ secretary Revd Arlington
"Gypsies and Travellers need places to live just as much as settled people
do - and they have just as much right to live a travelling life as others
do to live a settled life. Ways need to be found to ensure that each way of
life can be lived with minimal disturbance to the other," he said.
"Electioneering is one thing, but the opposition parties and the Government
must remember the basic human need for shelter, and the right of Gypsies
and Travellers to live according to their own cultural traditions."
CCRJ's Moderator, Revd Myra Blyth, said: "In a number of communities the
local church has played a major role in promoting dialogue and mediation in
conflicts between housed people and people living in caravans. Where
dialogue occurs constructive ways can be found to ensure that Travelling
People have places to live legally without causing disturbance to settled
There is a huge shortfall (some five thousand) in the number of legal
stopping places for Gypsies and Travellers with the result that many park
illegally and face constant eviction.
"The Government and Local Authorities could solve the problem of need by
providing adequate sites for these communities, which would prevent
infringement of the rights of settled communities by Gypsies and Travellers
stopping illegally," said Mr Trotman.
Last December, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister issued a Draft
Circular on Planning and Gypsy and Traveller Sites. In its response to this
broadly welcome document, CCRJ calls for restoration of the duty of Local
Authorities to provide sites or assist Gypsies and Travellers in
constructing their own sites on their own land with planning permission.
"We believe that this is the only long-term solution to the acute need for
sites," concluded Mr Trotman.
On Sunday planning minister Keith Hill said the Tories were "tapping into
the biggest vein of bigotry - prejudice against Gypsies and travellers".
For the Lib Dems Ed Davey said: "Michael Howard bandwagon opportunism has
led him into hypocrisy of new heights.
"As home secretary it was Michael Howard who did most to reduce the number
of legal traveller sites."
He added that Tory spokesman had been "welcoming new changes to planning
laws" and the Conservative leader was either "misinformed or stoking fear
and prejudice".
Michael Howard said the issue had nothing to do with racism - it was about
"standing up for the right values".

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