Print, Prejudice and the Struggle for Sites: The Ugly Face of Localism

03/10/2013 16:07 BST | Updated 02/12/2013 10:12 GMT

Last month, Inside Housing reported that only 101 of the 597 Traveller pitches allocated government funding in England since 2012 have managed to secure planning permission. Without permission, it is unlikely any of the remainder will go ahead; another broken promise in the ongoing struggle for adequate Traveller accommodation in the UK.

Twenty per cent of Britain's Gypsies and Travellers are officially categorised as homeless; living on unauthorised encampments with no legal alternatives. Adequate site provision is an essential first step towards tackling the gaping disparity in opportunities between Gypsies and Travellers and the settled community. It is also the only sustainable solution to illegal site development.

In 2012 the coalition did away with government targets for Traveller sites in regional spatial strategies, stating that decisions on provision should be made at a local level. But is at the local level the needs of minority groups are often neglected.

To see this in action, one only needs to glance at the pages of local newspapers. While the national press may fixate on 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding', local media is preoccupied with the minutia of site applications, and help co-ordinate local campaigns against development. Take a few examples from last month alone:

24th September 2013 Crawley News:

[Quoting borough councillor Liam Marshall-Ascough]

"I am not against travellers in the slightest. But we are talking about only nine pitches for a maximum of 36 people who could aspire to live on a site in years to come... We have a large community objecting to it, compared to the potential 36 travellers, and as a council we should stand up for them as the majority."

17 September 2013 Hartelpool Mail

VILLAGERS say they are up for the fight ahead of the plans to designate land in their village for a permanent gypsy and traveller site coming under review next week.

Village resident Andrew Dixon is managing the fighting fund on behalf of the residents. Anyone who wants to contribute is asked to send cash or cheques, (made out to HBCC Residents' Appeal Fund), to HBCC Residents' Appeal Fund C/O Andrew Dixon, 3 Magdalene Drive, Hart Village, Hartlepool, TS27 3BU.

14th September 2013 Basingstoke Gazette:

There were fears that if the council approved the application for the James family's two caravans to remain... it could open the floodgates and lead to the creation of a major traveller camp.

Speaking at the extraordinary meeting, parish council chairman Chris Holland said: "There were 403 public comments about this application. This proves democracy does work."

4th September 2013 - Watford Observer

An entire hall of Bovingdon residents united over their concerns about a proposed gipsy caravan site on Monday night... One resident suggested blocking the entrance to the site as a form of protest and Richard Briden, vice chairman of Bovingdon parish council, said that although "as a parish council we can't do that, anyone who wants to cause an action could".

The vast majority of local authority and private Traveller sites in the UK are well managed and pose no problems to the wider community, but media-stoked prejudice is crippling attempts to provide enough sites in England.

A 2012 ministerial working group report, Tackling inequalities experienced by Gypsies and Travellers - chaired by Eric Pickles- acknowledged the problem of local opposition to legal sites and made a commitment to showcase well run sites to counteract the fears and misconceptions of the settled community. To date the government has failed to honour this commitment.

Meanwhile, the scores of homeless Travellers trapped in cycles of evictions are not going to vanish. A sustainable solution is needed. Speaking to Inside Housing, Andrew Redfern, chief executive of Framework, which is waiting for planning permission on 55 pitches in the midlands, said that the re-introduction of statutory targets was the only answer to the current impasse, stating:

'To get delivery the government has to tell local authorities and not ask them.'

If Britain is to ever truly be an inclusive society, the government cannot stand by and allow the loudest voices at a local level succeed in excluding minority groups. Proactive policy and strong leadership is needed in the face of lowest common denominator anti-Gypsy NIMBYism.