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Boris u-turn on gypsy sites sparks row

PUBLISHED: 10:31 01 April 2010 | UPDATED: 11:30 12 August 2010

A LEADING representative of the gypsy community has blasted the Mayor of London Boris Johnson for slashing the number of new pitches to be made available in the borough - despite the news being received with jubilation by the council.

A LEADING representative of the gypsy community has blasted the Mayor of London Boris Johnson for slashing the number of new pitches to be made available in the borough - despite the news being received with jubilation by the council.

As part of the London Plan, the number of extra sites to be created in Bromley has fallen from 58 in the original plans to just 17.

James Belsham-Revell, manager of the Gypsy Traveller Project in St Mary Cray, described the mayor's decision as "a travesty."

He said: "I am horrified that what was an amended figure in the first place has been reduced by so much.

"It is a travesty that this has been allowed to happen. It is clear to me that Boris Johnson has been got at by a lot of the London Boroughs to change his mind and that includes the leader of Bromley Council.

"This is Boris reverting to his Conservative roots. When you take into account the birth rate then the decision to provide 17 plots is nonsensical. This will worsen the provision in the borough."

In October last year, the draft London Plan stated that 538 sites would have to be found across the capital by 2012. This has now been reduced to just 238.

The slashing of targets will particularly affect Bromley, a borough which is thought to contain the biggest community of travellers in the UK and one of the largest in Europe.

The London Plan, a strategic plan for London's economic, social and environmental development over the next 20-25 years, was released for consultation in October 2009.

According to the amendment published by the mayor last week, the original needs assessment "placed an unusual weight on the needs of those living in bricks and mortar".

An estimated 1,500 gypsy and traveller families live in the Cray Valley, and have been there for hundreds of years.

The leader of Bromley council Stephen Carr, who was vociferous in his opposition to extra pitches, was jubilant at the Mayor's decision.

He said: "I am delighted that common sense has prevailed. This would not have happened if it wasn't for me. I didn't see anyone else campaigning against it. That somebody has a psychological aversion to bricks and mortar is an absolute nonsense and it is typical of the age in which we live that people can shirk their responsibility."

He added "This is a wish and want list. I would like a house in the South of France but no one is going to give me one."

According Mr Belsham-Revell, many families from the travelling community are suffering mentally from being forced to live in a house.

"Some people have been housed for so long, they have lost their connection with the community.

"We need more pitches, there is a huge waiting list in the borough, and there are members who feel isolated, some who are suffering mentally from living in a house. Bromley Council is supposed to help the population of the borough, but the longest serving indigenous group is the travelling community. There have been gypsies in the Orpington area for hundreds of years."

A spokesman for Boris Johnson said: "We will not be commenting at this stage. This is a minor alteration to the draft London Plan.

This is still open to consultation and we welcome anyone to comment up to May 11."

l WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Contact ed.riley@archant.co.uk

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