Spelman promises to close travellers' sites loophole

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The Independent Online

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman today promised to stop travellers obtaining retrospective planning permission to allow them to remain permanently in camps which they have set up illegally.



Ms Spelman was speaking ahead of a conference today in her Meriden constituency bringing together communities which are fighting against unauthorised sites.



Residents of the village of Meriden have been staging a round-the-clock demonstration for more than six months against an encampment on green belt land.



But a representative of travellers today accused the protesters of racism, arguing that the land was owned by the gypsies who live there.



Legislation will be tabled in Parliament on Monday which Ms Spelman said would bring about "fairness between the settled and travelling communities" by making provision for more authorised sites, while closing a loophole which allows travellers to apply for and obtain retrospective planning permission after having set up camp.



Ms Spelman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I don't think it is an issue of racism. There is an issue with planning law, there is a problem and the new Government wants to try to address the problem, which is not new.



"There needs to be a balance between the settled community, like the villagers here in Meriden, and the travelling community.



"We need more authorised sites. In order to incentivise councils to provide more authorised sites, we need to recognise that in the planning system and in the grant that they receive.



"On Monday, the coalition Government will introduce a bill in Parliament which will strike the fairness between the settled and travelling community, closing the loophole on retrospective planning permission but also making provision for extra authorised sites."



But Jake Bowers, editor of Travellers' Times magazine questioned why travellers were excluded from today's conference.



He told the programme: "Whilst there are some people in that village who are primarily concerned about the environment, the majority of people you speak to, when the mask slips, the real reason they are there is because there are gypsies in their village and they don't like it.



"(The travellers) own that land. I don't think anybody would say that moving on to green belt is an ideal solution, but the people on that site would say it is an issue of necessity."



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