Govt stands firm on gypsy rights

The government is standing firm in its approach to gypsy campsites after sustained attacks from local MPs concerned about travellers’ sites in their constituency.

Communities secretary Hazel Blears was pushed to disown government plans to situate 48 new pitches for gypsies and travellers in the south-west during a local communities question time in the Commons by North Wiltshire Conservative MP James Gray.

Current government policy allows current gypsy sites to remain until the new allocations come into effect.

“Gypsies may set up their caravans anywhere they please until such time as the county provides that imaginary number of sites,” Mr Gray told Ms Blears.

“What is the secretary of state going to do about the perverse effect on the countryside?”

Ms Blears replied: “The honourable gentleman will be aware that if appropriate plans are in place to enable gypsy and traveller sites to be organised properly, that is far the best option.

“When no plan is in place, we must often resort to enforcement action, which is more costly, takes more time, and has a bigger impact on the area concerned.”

The exchange follows anger in some local communities at a decision by the Planning Inspectorate to allow continued illegal camps until the 48 pitches have been established.

Opponents say the camps break the law and spoil areas of natural beauty. But supporters of the judgement argue the current policy is the most cost effective and ethical.

Mr Gray clung to his opinion yesterday.

“I know of no reason why the travelling community should be given any preference at all under our planning laws,” he said.

“It seems to me that the laws of England should apply to all, irrespective of their way of life or racial origin.”