UK

Eric Pickles Statement On Gypsies And Travellers Altered Amid Outrage

09/08/2013 10:29 BST | Updated 09/08/2013 14:37 BST

UPDATE: The Department for Communities and Local Government has said the wording of the press release was amended for technical reasons, and that it stands by the description of unauthorised traveller camps as a 'blight'.

A government announcement on travellers was watered down at the last minute after it branded unauthorised sites a "blight" on communities.

The Travellers' Movement group said the Department of Communities and Local Government would "only inflame prejudice" by using the term.

It was later dropped from the official press release, which instead said illegal camps were a "problem".

Communities secretary Eric Pickles announced new guidelines for councils to remove unauthorised sites and to tackle the mess they cause.

But critics compared his tough talk to the furore over the Home Office's 'go home' vans and Ukip MEP Godfrey Bloom's 'bongo bongo land' comments about foreign aid.

Joseph Jones, chairman of the Gypsy Council, accused Pickles of "grandstanding".

"It's creating tension, it's a negative thing to do," he told Sky News.

"At the moment it seems like a theme. Recently we have had the Go Home campaign, then we have the bongo bongo thing going on.

"It seems like open season on ethnic minorities."

Pickles has revoked Labour's Equality and Diversity in Planning guidance, which he said told councils not to take enforcement action against unauthorised travellers, and suggested planning rules should be applied differently to individuals depending on their background.

Powers that can be used include temporary stop notices to stop and remove unauthorised caravans, pre-emptive injunctions that protect vulnerable land in advance from unauthorised encampments and possession orders to remove trespassers from land.

The DCLG said the move is aimed at preventing another incident like Dale Farm, where a long-running legal battle was fought before bailiffs moved in to evict travellers from the site in Essex.

Pickles denied the powers were an attack on the traveller community and said £60 million was being made available to local authorities for new legal sites.

He told ITV's Daybreak: "We inherited a situation where the number of illegal sites had gone up four-fold and what we expect them to do is obey the law like you and I do.

"It does not give people the right to come on to a green belt...and to trash it."

When Romany journalist Jake Bowers was challenged over the mess left by some camps on Sky News, he said he had lived next to many housing estates where residents' behaviour was worse.

"If you have no provision for your way of life..that puts you in conflict", he added.