Future Dale Farms 'lurking', group warns
A support group for Gypsies and Travellers has said a recent government progress report does not properly address the problem of a lack of authorised Traveller sites in the UK, meaning incidents like Dale Farm are ‘lurking in the future’.
The criticism comes after more than 100 people took part in a march in London on Sunday April 8 to mark Roma Nation Day, an annual day of celebration and protest to highlight discrimination against Traveller, Roma and Gypsy communities.
The government’s report, released on 5 April, referred to several measures that would improve the lives of these communities, including the government’s £60 million fund to build more authorised sites for Travellers.
But Matthew Brindley, policy and research officer for the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, said the report did not do enough to address the 20 per cent of Gypsies and Travellers who live on unauthorised land, and that bids had only been made for £47 million of the £60 million Traveller Pitch Funding.
He said: ‘The reality is that the money from the Travellers sites grant has not been available to the full extent. Sites have only been identified for half of the new pitches and less than 20 per cent have received planning permission. The main barrier to providing gypsy traveler sites is identifying land and gaining planning permission, so money isn’t an answer in itself.’
Mr Brindley added that the five areas most in need of new Travellers sites had received very little funding for new pitches.
‘Combined, Essex, Kent, Cambridgeshire, Surrey and Hertfordshire have 25 per cent of England’s caravans, but they’ve only received 4 per cent of the funding. The funding isn’t going where it is most needed to address the key hot spots where we have incidents like Dale Farm lurking in the future,’ he said.
The Communities and Local Government department responded by saying that Traveller pitch funding was not allocated on a regional basis, but to schemes brought forward by local authorities.
A CLG spokesperson said: ‘Ministers are clear that the previous top-down targets for Traveller sites forced councils to encroach on the Green Belt, seriously harming community relations, leading to an increase in the number of unauthorised sites and meaning site funding was allocated but often left unspent.
‘That’s why we’ve allocated £47 million towards the building of 620 new pitches, with more funding to follow. Councils will also get powerful financial benefits for building those authorised sites that have the backing of the local community, through the new homes bonus.’