UK & World News
Traveller Camps: Eric Pickles Urges Action
Council officers must stop "washing their hands" of dealing with illegal traveller sites and start taking quick and decisive action, the local government secretary has said.
Eric Pickles said councils had the power to shut down encampments but they all too often told people that there was nothing they could do.
New guidelines have been published to outline the legal powers councils and landowners have to remove illegal traveller sites.
These include temporary stop notices to stop and remove unauthorised caravans, injunctions that protect vulnerable land from encampments in advance and possession orders to remove trespassers from land.
Mr Pickles has also revoked Labour's Equality and Diversity in Planning guidance, which he said told councils not to take enforcement action against unauthorised travellers.
Mr Pickles said: "I want all councils to be ready to take action straightaway to stop illegal camps and unauthorised sites starting in the first place.
"Decisive action early on saves money and unnecessary upset for local residents.
"We've strengthened councils' powers so they have the confidence to take decisive action.
"Too often, council officers wash their hands, and say nothing can be done. This is not the case.
"The public want to see fair play, with planning rules enforced consistently, rather than special treatment being given to certain groups."
He said that £60m was being made available to local authorities for new legal traveller sites.
However, Joseph Jones, chairman of the Gypsy Council, accused the Government of reinforcing "negative stereotypes" about travellers.
He told Sky News that the moves were like the Home Office's controversial clampdown on illegal immigrants using a van telling them to go home.
He also referred to the furore over UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom's "bongo bongo land" comments about foreign aid spending.
He said: "It's creating tension, it's a negative thing to do.
"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."
He called on authorities to create more legal sites for travellers.
The move is aimed at preventing another situation like the one at Dale Farm, in Essex, where the council fought a protracted legal battle before bailiffs moved in to evict travellers from the six-acre site.
At the peak of the operation, 308 officers were involved, including those brought in from several other counties and the total cost of the clearance was £7m.