Gypsies told: 'No room for you in our city'

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Portsmouth City Council is refusing to provide plots for Gypsies and Travelers in the city.

Council leaders claim that there is no space to allocate areas for traveling camps.

The South East England Regional Assembly, the region's planning body, said Portsmouth should find space for 13 or 14 pitches for Gypsies and traveling show people. Councilors, however, wrote back to the assembly refusing to comply with this order.

Now they have agreed a Gypsy and Traveler strategy which says: 'The city council is concerned that any regional allocation of caravan pitches to Portsmouth will not be deliverable.'

Liberal-Democrat council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: 'This reinforces our message to the regional development agency that we will continue to fight this.

'We are continuing with our view that there is no demand for the sites in Portsmouth and no space for them either.'

The regional assembly came up with the number of pitches each area in the south east should provide after a lengthy consultation.

Fareham and Havant have to provide nine each, Gosport five, East Hampshire 18 and Winchester 37.

The figures have been sent to the government for approval, and an examination in public is expected to take place before they are agreed, but ministers could say Portsmouth has to provide the sites.

Portsmouth council leaders hope they can strike a deal with a neighboring authority to take on its share of pitches instead.

But Fareham is already in talks with Winchester to take its share on, while Gosport and East Hampshire have so far protested against the pitches they have already been allocated.

Tory leader Councilor Steve Wemyss said the city council was taking a risk by refusing to find sites.

'I agree that there is no space in the city,' he said. 'But the law says we have to provide suitable sites, otherwise we could end up with more illegal encampments.

'If they fail to provide sites it could be a problem when it comes to seeking injunctions to move travelers on when they do arrive.

'It's easy for the administration to say we don't have space, but it does feel like they are sticking their heads in the sand.'

Councillor Vernon-Jackson said the council would continue to work with neighboring authorities.

Regardless of the fact that there are many Gypsies and traveling people in Hampshire and also in and around Portsmouth. Mostly found encamped illegally, and despite the order from the regional assembly the Portsmouth city fathers are basically saying that Gypsies and Travelers are not welcome in their town.

The claim by councilors is that there is no space in the city of Portsmouth for less than 15 pitches. That, I am afraid to say, is a laughable excuse. Sure there are areas available, such as some of the old Navy facilities, where some of those pitches, if not indeed all, could be accommodated.

The truth is, though, that Portsmouth's city authorities are simply saying that they just do not want to provide spaces for Gypsies and Travelers. It is as simple and straightforward as that.

Shame on you, Portsmouth.

© 2009