Gypsies claim site choice is 'illegal'

The Gypsy Council has heavily criticized South Holland District Council's methodology to find suitable sites for Gypsies and Travellers, saying it is discriminatory and illegal.

The council has responded to the district's public consultation on the matter and says the methods proposed will identify sites, which are unhealthy, unsafe, and in places that Gypsies will not want to live.

A letter from Ann Bagehote, the Gypsy Council secretary, says: "We have to object in the strongest possible terms.

"Your criteria deliberately ensures Gypsy caravan sites are treated less favorably than houses for non-Gypsy people.

"In our view that is not only offensive but also illegal. You need to re-write the criteria to say that both Gypsy and non-Gypsy families need decent accommodation.

"There is absolutely no point building a site where no-one wants to live."

The letter is appended to a report by council leader Gary Porter and corporate director Tim Leader due to be discussed by the cabinet on Tuesday, which says that the Gypsy Council's criticisms are not accepted by the district council.

The report will update members on the consultation phase but states there has been limited response.

No councillors made comments, while Weston and Cowbit parish councils replied saying that they were unable to identify suitable sites in their areas.

Two members of the public suggested locations and these will be fed into the formal site selection process and evaluated using the criteria adopted by the cabinet.

The report asks councillors to approve a modification of the site search method to include all land within one mile of a bus route and/or a major arterial road running through the district.

If the criteria is approved the council will then set about constructing a sieve map and creating a long list by the end of July.

The council needs to find land to accommodate two residential gypsy sites and a stopping place for up to ten caravans. It launched a public consultation this year after protests against its three preferred sites.

When one looks at where Gypsy Caravan sites are located one can well understand what the Gypsy Council spokesperson is on about. Anyone wanting to see what the conditions are like where Gypsy sites are generally placed should take a look at some of them, such as like the one in Earlsfield, South London, or the one under the Westway in West London.

In most cases Gypsy Caravan Sites are placed in entirely unsuitable locations, such as next to sewerage works, on former rubbish tips, right slap bang onto industrial estates next to cement works, such as in Earlfield, and so on. No non-Gypsy person would be asked to live there but Rom and Travellers in the UK are forced onto such sites.

When, on the other hand, Gypsies and Travellers purchase land themselves where they wish to live and even if the go through the planning process properly they are denied permission to set up their own site or settlements, often with the comments that the location, even if this is an old farm, is too far away from the local schools, amenities, etc.

When official sites, however, are established on sites next to sewerage works, cement works, etc., they are also far away from the local amenities but then that does not seem to matter.

M V Smith, June 17, 2007