Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Latest on Gypsy and Traveller Sites

There is to be a great meeting in Westminster in October to discuss the provision of sites for Gypsies and Travellers. 

As you may know, my first two novels, Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served have story lines relating to the shortage of Gypsy sites and relationships between.the travelling community and mainstream society. In my early research I became very intrigued by the causes of this and why it has become such a social issue everywhere. I came to realise in my investigations that the on-going, sorry situation was bound up in a tangled web of history, culture, tradition, justice, planning laws and widespread beliefs in society that sometimes can only be described as prejudice. As with any section of society, people tend to remember unhappy incidents where there is some kind of conflict or tension, and then apply their conclusions to a whole group of people. Such negativity is often at the core of racism.

A key problem is availability of land and I fully appreciate that, but the amount of land required to provide sites where Travellers and Gypsies can live in a trailer instead of a house, is on a remarkably small scale. As far as I can see, it could be incorporated into planned housing developments; the only difference being that a hard-standing pitch is needed instead of foundations for a house. Put like this, unless you are a property developer, does it not seem a fairly simple and modest request? 

Traditionally, the travelling community live in family groups and do not care to do their ablutions or laundry in the trailer so some kind of utility ‘shed’ is preferred for washing and toilet, as you might find on any regulated holiday campsite. None of these requirements is beyond the wit of man, or the planning authorities. Also, where a Gypsy or Traveller has purchased land to set up home, then certain criteria could surely be devised that could accommodate this without contravening planning laws. If it is land that is an Area of Outstanding Beauty; strictly agricultural or green belt, then no. If it is a piece of land that might be used for building bricks and mortar, or a reclaimed brownfield site, then possibly. This is oversimplifying, but surely government and planning experts could come up with a compromise formula if they were willing. 

The stumbling block for councils to provide as they should is often down to the general public raising objections. These protests can arise as a result of ugly perceptions that have grown due to the mess associated with unauthorised sites. You see where I am going? By the way, it is always worth re-stating that authorised Gypsy sites are, almost always, kept immaculately.

If you want to know more, here are some links you may find useful. Actually, I am underselling them - they make fascinating reading! Just make yourself comfortable for a few minutes.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles; Chairman of the Gypsy Council Joseph Jones; Chief Executive of the Irish Travellers Movement Yvonne MacNamara;  Prime Minister David Cameron; some widely opposing views reported here. The Westminster briefing will be a fascinating debate to follow.

Here is an abridged version in Inside Housing

Surrey Heath Residents Blog

See the heated conversation that struck up here in November 2010 in response to my piece on a local issue. This situation was not typical but a very specific circumstance relating to Showmen; however the discussion that ensued was more typical.
If you are new to all this and would like a more relaxing way to gain some understanding of the various sides of this important debate, then you could start by reading my novels, an 'easy way in' as one reviewer said.