THE Travellers Group of Great Britain has said government guidelines on moving swiftly to close down Traveller sites is “missing the point”.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said recently that “decisive action” is needed to clamp down on the “blight” of unauthorised encampments and traveller sites, issuing a new set of guidelines that remind local authorities in Britain of their legal powers with regards to such sites.
Traveller groups have been swift to criticise the move. Yvonne McNamara, chief executive of the Irish Travellers Movement in Britain, said that highlighting the issue of enforcement says nothing new and “will not solve the problem” of illegal sites.
Ms MacNamara said: “The Department for Communities and Local Government says yet again that unauthorized encampments and developments by Gypsies and Travellers, and its impact on the settled community, is the major issue, and should be singularly addressed by enforcement. However, this fails to address the root cause which is the national chronic shortage of Gypsy and Traveller sites.”
“Gypsy and Traveller people experience very low average life expectancy and significantly higher rates of suicide and infant and maternal death, which is shocking and shameful in our modern society. As is prejudice and racism towards them from our elected leaders, who should be setting an example with their conduct.
“The use of the word ‘blight’ by the Department of Communities and Local Government to describe homeless Travellers is an indication of this hostility and prejudice and can only inflame prejudice. Homeless Gypsy and Traveller families need safe and secure places to live in order to access services for health, education and citizenship.”
Joseph Jones, chairman of the Gypsy Council, said the government needed to provide more legal sites for travellers, arguing that Pickle’s comments were reinforcing negative stereotypes: “Local authorities already know how to manage unauthorised encampments; they don’t need the government to tell them how to do it.”
Mr Pickles has said the new guidelines will give a stronger voice to local residents and councillors to challenge council officials, adding that the recently scrapped Equality and Diversity in Planning guidance put councils off taking enforcement action.
The guidance deals with unauthorised traveller sites, protest camps and squatters on both public and private land and also covers the problem of the clear-up operation on such sites.
A Local Government Association spokesman said: “Councils across the country are providing authorised, legitimate sites and services for travelling communities. People who live nearby need to be given a say on whether land is appropriate for travellers and that is precisely what the planning process is there to do.”
Speaking ahead of the announcement, David Cameron had said: “The same law should apply to everybody and just as you can’t suddenly change your house without permission, you can’t suddenly set up an encampment without permission.”
Dale Farm was in 2011 of one of the largest evictions in recent years, following a ten-year court battle between Basildon Council and travellers on the Essex site. At the time, some 85 families were living on 51 plots without planning permission.
Last week, the arrival of a traveller camp behind a primary school in Cardiff led to local Labour councillor Keith Jones expressing his worry that it could disturb pupils.
Mr Jones said that there were plans to erect a fence around the edge of the council owned land in time for the new academic year, which begins on September 2. He added that as long as the travellers are on the field the work would be delayed which could potentially lead to disruption at the Pen-y-Bryn school.