One Square Mile
A report released today by the Equality and Human Rights Commission proves that creating more Gypsy and Traveller sites generates income for councils, improves relations with the settled community and provides safe and decent accommodation for Gypsy and Traveller communities.
The report “Gypsies and Travellers: Simple Solutions for Living Together” says as little as one square mile of land across all of England would be enough to provide all Gypsy and Traveller families with sufficient authorised sites. There are 93,000 square miles of land in Britain.
But a survey of local councils in the report reveals slow and patchy improvement in the number of authorised sites. It also reveals that councils must double their rate of progress to meet the Government’s 2011 target of providing enough stopping places for Gypsies and Travellers.
Evidence gathered by the Commission shows that well-run, authorised sites can exist in harmony with settled communities. In contrast, unauthorised sites can increase community tensions and are often located in unsafe or unsuitable places lacking basic toilet and waste disposal facilities.
The report finds that authorised site provision also brings economic benefits. Currently, local authorities spend around £18 million a year of council tax payers’ money evicting Gypsies and Travellers from unauthorised sites. These costs could be significantly reduced if councils invest in legitimate sites.
Investment in such sites could pay for itself over time. In Bristol for example, when authorised sites were developed, eviction costs fell from around £200,000 to £5,000 annually. The Council was also able to collect significant returns in rent, council tax and utility bills from the sites.
Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:
“Unauthorised encampments do not benefit anybody apart from the lawyers. Local authorities get tied up in expensive prolonged legal eviction processes, the settled community becomes anxious and the Gypsies and Travellers have to pitch in unsafe, unsanitary sites and lack access to the health and education services that every family needs.
“Everyone has the right to a decent home, whether that’s bricks and mortar or a caravan. For too long, Gypsies and Travellers have not had enough authorised places to stay and have remained at the edges of our communities.
“There is a simple solution to a problem that seems intractable in some parts of England. One square mile could be all that’s needed. Our report shows if we work together we can find a practical solution that suits Gypsies and Travellers, local residents and local authorities. We can give all Gypsies and Travellers access to authorised sites while reducing the burden on council tax payers. And most of all, we can provide the basis for safe and pleasant neighbourhoods.”
Gloria Buckley MBE, a Romany Gypsy and manager of three authorised sites says in the report:
“When I started managing one site [Costessey, In Norfolk] things were very rough, with terrible problems between the Gypsies and their neighbours. People said you can’t do it – but we got things in hand and we have made it work. We even got an award for making a contribution towards village life. We are one community – the Travellers and our settled neighbours. We’ve all got something in common: we want our children to be healthy and educated.”
Unfortunately, however, there are still many within British politics who do not accept such “simple solutions”. In this film, Ann Widdecombe MP and Romany Journalist Jake Bowers battle it out over whether there should be more Gypsy and Traveller sites in South-east England.