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Minister Brandon Lewis to force Gypsy/Traveller families to ‘travel permanently’

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  August 31, 2015 |

Permanently on the move?We hear today (31st August) via the Daily Mail of course, that Gypsies and Travellers will now have to prove they are ‘permanently travelling’ in order to qualify as ‘travellers’ for the purposes of planning law.  Its not a surprise, Eric Pickles and Brandon Lewis tried to bring in this policy in the dying days of the coalition. It was stopped the [roadside] n at the final moment by a Liberal MP who actually read what the Association of Chief Police Officers had to say on the matter.  Like ourselves and many others ACPO were against the idea on the basis that it will cause them a policing nightmare to have to deal with so many families having to take ‘permanently’ to the roadsides just in order to be able to continue living in caravans.  By this new definition many of the people living on Gypsy and Traveller sites across the country wont technically qualify to be there because they don’t travel permanently (the new guidance is rather vague about what is actually permanent but hint at at least a couple of months of the year being mobile).

So what will happen?

The planning system, already bulging at the seams, will choke under the weight of the new regulations, interminable costly legal arguments and appeals. Some of the more enlightened local authorities will ignore the government edict as best they can, those that don’t will see families piling onto unauthorised encampments just as quick as they can wind the caravan jacks up. It’s impossible to realistically estimate how many families will be obliged to consider taking to the roadsides but it could be in the tens of thousands.

We already hear of local authorities, Bournemouth for example, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds each year to make Travellers ‘unwelcome’.  How much this new policy is going to cost local council tax payers really doesn’t bear thinking about. And why is this? To protect the greenbelt? that argument falls flat when the same Ministers are telling us that the greenbelt will have to be breached in order that enough houses can be built. It really is hard to fathom. Do they want to stop people from living in caravans and mobile homes? Oh err, what about the many retirement home parks that provide affordable comfort for many retired people?

Perhaps the real reason is that the Government badly needs a hobby-horse to distract the electorate from the austerity programme which is cutting public services to shreds. Or the complete failure of our Government to end the horrendous deaths of refugees in the Mediterranean and elsewhere? The sad thing is that, in some areas at least, it will work.  It’s a shame that the public doesn’t have the same loathing of refugees dying, or of homelessness, that it is so easily led to have of certain people living in caravans.

Readers might like to consider, when next their local playing field is ‘invaded’ by caravans and huge costs to remove them ensue, wouldn’t they really rather that the families were able to stay permanently on adequate sites, perhaps with occasional ‘cultural’ travelling dealt with by negotiated stopping?  In which case Mr Lewis needs to hear from you.

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