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Gypsies fight for their rights

PUBLISHED: 11:59 07 October 2010

James Bellsham-Revell

James Bellsham-Revell

Archant

Hundreds of travellers are set to demonstrate against the axing of a major assessment for the number of sites needed nationwide.

Members of the gypsy and travellers community will gather at City Hall, London on Monday, October 11, to protest against the axing of regional spatial strategies - which included the assessment.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles announced the decision on July 6, which left councils to decide on the number of sites needed for travellers.

James Belsham-Revell from the Bromley Gypsy Travellers’ Project, who plans to attend the demonstration has worked with the travellers from Bromley borough for more than 20 years, and said the move has undone work done by the Labour government that outlined the need for 17 more sites in the borough. An estimated 1,500 gypsy and traveller families live in the Cray Valley.

Mr Belsham-Revell, who attended a Diversity Day at Bromley Civic Centre, for groups including travellers, on Tuesday, said: “Pickles scrapped it, after years of careful planning and building our case up. After the formation of the coalition government, he said that local authorities should decide their own figures.” Bromley Council is yet to announce its decision on the matter.

Mr Belsham-Revell said: “We need a lot more sites in the area and we have to have transit sites as well as settled sites so that those who want to move around can.

“Two or three years ago there were some floods and some people were forced to live in caravans and there was a programme afterwards looking at the mental health problems they suffered as a result. Well think about that argument in reverse - when gypsies are forced to live in bricks and mortar it really goes against everything they are and they become desperately unhappy. The government needs too recognise that.”

In a statement, Mr Pickles said that travellers will benefit from changes to legislation that will give them the same rights and responsibilities as residents on other mobile home sites, under plans to be announced in the Localism Bill this autumn.

He added: “At the same time, top-down Whitehall planning rules on travellers which ministers believe has undermined community cohesion and harmed the countryside will be scrapped.”

A Bromley Council spokesperson said: “The council has over recent years invested in our existing traveller sites creating some additional pitches which meet current needs. Bromley does not consider that there is a need for any significant increase in the numbers of sites or pitches within the borough.”

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