Saturday, January 15, 2011
There was a fascinating piece on the radio in the UK this morning on the disputes between gypsy-travellers and settled communities (for a video see here) with direct action taken on both sides. This head-on collision over land use has arisen in the English village of Meriden where a group of gypsies attempted to construct a caravan site for 14 trailers on a field they own over a holiday weekend (giving them an additional day before local planning officers were open again). While these stealth tactics have previously been successful, this time gypsy-traveller ‘land activists’ were opposed by a human barricade of local residents who were determined not to let them build. Eight months later the gypsy-travellers continue to live on the site in their caravans (with sanitary facilities that were permitted to be constructed over the Summer) with both sides awaiting the outcome of an application for planning permission to construct hard standings and further infrastructure on the site.
These are longstanding disputes (gypsies were regulated as early as the Egyptians Act of 1530), with the nomadism and communal living at the heart of many gypsy and travelers’ lifestyles challenging a planning system based on sedentarism and individualism. Rights to camp or pitch caravans on open spaces have long been restricted with public provision made for gypsy-travellers on authorised sites, although there has been a widely acknowledged lack of provision. This situation has been condemned as ‘deplorable’ by the European Court of Human Rights with approximately one in four Gypsies and Travellers living in caravans without a legal place on which to park their home.
Disputes such as that at Meriden raise claims of unfairness, with arguments raging about whether ‘travelling’ or ‘settled’ communities are better treated by the planning system and why, if gypsies are traveling people, they need settled provision at all. The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat, responding to the concerns of their political supporters in the ‘Tory shires’, are about to introduce new rules on planning applications by gypsy-travellers to restrict their ability to apply for retrospective planning permission and to tackle the thorny issue of public provision of authorised sites. In the meantime, at today’s conference, no gypsy-travellers have apparently been invited to attend.