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Respect our fellow travellers


TREVOR PHILLIPS has called for more &#39understanding&#39 of the gypsy community and said people&#39s fears of criminality was overblown.

Caravan of Love:
Caravan of love: Trevor Phillips says gypsies still suffer high levels of prejudice.

The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality called on local councils to provide enough land to house gypsies and traveller families.

Mr Phillips wants to end the damaging racial tensions flaring up in the UK&#39s rural communities.

Speaking at a press conference to launch a report into the issue, entitled &#39Common Ground&#39, Mr Phillips stressed that the CRE had support for its stance from &#39virtually every other stakeholder&#39 including travellers&#39 organisations, the police and local authorities.

The issues around gypsies and travellers would only be resolved if everyone involved both understood the fundamental, underlying problems and was willing to try to find solutions to them, he added.


He claimed the issue had been &#39bedevilled by misunderstanding, prejudice and to some extent misrepresentation&#39. Resolving the issues around gypsies was important for social cohesion.

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips: resolving the problems is not &#39rocket science&#39

&#39Gypsies and travellers still represent a group in our society which it still seems respectable to treat as outsiders and second-class citizens,&#39 he said, pointing to the continued existence of &#39no traveller&#39 signs and other discriminatory practices.

He admitted that people&#39s fears about gypsies and travellers were &#39exacerbated&#39 by criminal behaviour on the part of some gypsies, but insisted those offenders were very much in the minority.

It was &#39both unfair and not very useful&#39 to take those individuals as representative of a wider gypsy and traveller community.

The underlying problem was the lack of enough sites being made available to gypsies, the CRE head insisted, adding that housing provision for gypsies should be made as part of overall housing provision, not as a special service.

Resolving the issues around gypsies was not &#39rocket science&#39, he said. &#39It is not the biggest of deals for us to solve these problems.&#39


Only 500 acres across the whole of the UK would be needed to create the 2,500-4,000 pitches needed to provide homes for gypsies and travellers.

Sarah Spencer, a CRE commissioner and chair of the report&#39s advisory committee, said the CRE had not named the local authorities who were failing to provide land for gypsies and travellers.

She had promised anonymity to the councils taking part in the research to encourage them to be open about the problems they were facing. The research would not be used as an excuse to target poorly performing councils.

The CRE would use &#39normal&#39 mechanisms – such as complaints from the public – to take action against councils, he said, but that would be a &#39separate&#39 process from the research.

Smaller issues councils had often shown themselves unwilling to deal with the problems, however the fact that some councils had shown leadership and face the issues head on the showed they could be resolved.


Asked whether there should be a statutory duty on councils to provide sites for travellers and gypsies, Ms Spencer said the Government had effectively introduced a statutory duty on councils but had done so through &#39mainstream&#39 planning law.

&#39We are confident that the new process in the planning and housing system actually delivers the sites, and that probably means there is no longer a need for a statutory duty,&#39 she said.

Ms Spencer said increasing the number of sites made available was the top priority. Asked whether the CRE was confident that councils would accept the recommendations, she said the Local Government Association was &#39100%&#39 behind the report.

Mr Phillips added that if the issues surrounding gypsies and travellers were to be resolved, the underlying causes of those problems – such as a lack of sites and suspicion of outsiders – must be given priority ahead of tackling the symptoms.

If that could be achieved, there would no longer be &#39cheap votes&#39 to be won in attacking gypsies and travellers.

One of the major problems at present was that councils were afraid of taking steps in isolation, because they could be flooded with gypsies if they made sites available and neighbouring councils did not.

Ms Spencer said it was worrying that only one council in five provided advice to gypsies and travellers about purchasing surplus private land. And, even more worryingly, not one council had assessed the impact of its policies on race relations as the law required them to do.

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