Yesterday morning, there was a debate in Westminster Hall entitled ‘Illegal Gypsy and Traveller Encampments: Bedfordshire’. This debate comes after two other recent debates on this topic, on the 9th October ‘Gypsies and Travellers and Local Communities’ and on the 12th October ‘Unauthorised Encampments’ (see our Open letter to the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government).
Unfortunately the ‘Illegal Gypsy and Traveller Encampments: Bedfordshire’ debate failed, as the other two debates did, to address the issue of a severe national shortage of pitches and also to recognize that by ensuring sufficient pitch provision it will inevitably reduce the number of homeless Gypsy and Traveller families on the side of roads and living in public spaces.
The debate focused on the need to strengthen eviction powers, disregarding the fact that local authorities across the country are failing to comply with the requirements in the DCLG’s Planning Policy for Traveller Site (PPTS) document which are supposed to outline how sufficient numbers of pitches for Gypsy and Traveller families can be put in place. Research conducted by Friends, Families and Travellers in May and June 2016 found that only 10 out of 66 local authorities in the South East of England were following the DCLG’s requirement to identify land for their five year need for pitches. Further to this, a revision of the PPTS document in 2015 changed the definition for planning purposes of “Gypsies and Travellers”. This effectively means that a smaller amount of people fit within this term, although of course, still require somewhere to live.
One of the most vocal parliamentarians at yesterdays’ debate, Ms Nadine Dorries despaired that the number of encampments in Central Bedfordshire had risen from 45 in 2016 to already 99 this year. Despite clear evidence of numerous families without pitches and the availability of Central Government funding for new pitches under the Affordable Homes Programme, Central Bedfordshire District Council has only used this to build two pitches since 2015. On top of this, Central Bedfordshire Council recently reviewed its Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessment in line with the new PPTS definitions and reduced its commitment to future pitch provision by 48%. As politicians like Ms Dories call for increased eviction powers whilst subsequently decreasing pitch provision, members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities ask, “Where do they expect us to go?”
Speaking of the recent debates, Nathalie Bennett, English Romany Gypsy and CEO of Gypsylife said:
“The solution is simple, an adequate provision of sites located where they are needed most in all constituencies will end the need for unauthorised camping. But instead of offering realistic solutions, some authorities want to criminalise and victimise a homeless ethnic minority.”
The failure of local authorities to provide sufficient numbers of pitches means that many families have interrupted access to basic water and sanitation, difficulties in accessing education and managing long-term health conditions. An increase in the eviction powers afforded to public bodies would only mean moving on families quicker, yet providing no alternative solutions.
Abbie Kirkby, Advice and Policy Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers says:
“Sadly, we heard very little from parliamentarians about how the planning system could be improved to create more sites. The debates have displayed real hostilities against the Gypsy and Traveller communities and some parliamentarians have used very questionable language and unhelpful rhetoric. These debates should have been an opportunity to discuss the lack of secure and safe accommodation for the Gypsy and Traveller communities in a constructive way but have instead been used to air ill-informed views about a diverse and often marginalized group of people.”
About Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT)
FFT is a Traveller led charity which has been working for equality for Gypsies and Travellers since 1994. We are a national charity who work on behalf of all Gypsies, Roma and Travellers regardless of ethnicity, culture or background.
Find out more
If you would like to find out more information about accommodation and planning for Gypsy and Traveller communities in the United Kingdom, please visit our Policy and Publications section.
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