Gypsy group defends village site

Gypsies fighting to stay near a village in Somerset have told a public inquiry they moved on to the site to get a base for health and education services.

A total of 16 families of Romany Gypsies moved on to the site in North Curry last October.

They bought the land in Oxen Lane in an auction and have erected fences and built a road on the site.

Some villagers have since been arguing with the local council to have the families evicted from the site.

Taunton Deane Borough Council issued the Gypsies with an enforcement order denying them permission to stay.

A public inquiry is being held in which a government planning inspector is considering the Gypsies' appeal against this.

John Holland, 38, a self-employed gardener, told the hearing he was fed-up with "living in road verges".

The council's barrister Richard Langham said Mr Holland and the other families had arrived at the site on the same weekend.

He said: "You knew it was important to establish the camp quickly, giving the council no opportunity to be warned."

'Off the highways'

Margaret Smith-Bendell, a spokeswoman for the Romany Gypsy Council, said that government had done "nothing for the Gypsies of this country" since the 1960s.

She said that once Gypsies were allowed to occupy land they co-existed very well with the local community.

"All I'm interested in is getting my people and their children off the highways," she said.

"Prejudice towards Gypsies arises from a lack of knowledge of our ways. As a race we are no different to house dwellers.

"Romany Gypsies want access to education and health facilities in the same way as house dwellers."

Planning inspector Roger Priestley will present his report to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister who will then have the final say on the appeal.

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