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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

As well as taking action through legislation going before parliament which would aid action on illegal travellers' sites, the government was keeping the situation under review - including the possibility of strengthening planning powers, housing and planning minister Keith Hill told MPs.

He told Julie Morgan, Liberal Democrat MP for Cardiff North, that over the past two years, in England, the government had spent £17m on refurbishing 150 unused or under-used gypsy sites, and a similar amount was available over the next two years. From April this year, the funding had been available for provision of new transit sites.

Ms Morgan said an estimated 30% of gypsy and traveller families had no legal place to stay. One way forward might be to impose a statutory duty on local authorities to provide and facilitate sites.

Mr Hill said government knew that many travellers did not have access to authorised encampments and it was a growing problem. And it knew of the great difficulties caused by unauthorised encampments, which was why the government was bringing in a new power under the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill to allow the rapid removal of illegal encampments by the police.

The minister added: 'The plain fact is that we need more authorised sites - both transit and residential. I am pleased to say that the number of sites that are privately owned by gypsies and travellers is increasing, but there is also a clear need for local authorities to provide more sites. We are keeping all options under consideration'.

Henry Bellingham, Conservative MP for North-West Norfolk, congratulated the minister on his efforts to grip the problem and come up with interesting ideas. An important problem was the management of sites.

Mr Hill said gypsies and travellers could create a nightmare for local residents and sites could be left in an appalling condition. The government was anxious that councils could deal with fly-tipping, and further powers to aid th is were included in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill.

Andrew Selous, Conservative MP for South-West Bedfordshire, asked when the government would ensure that planning law was applied as stringently to gypsies as it is to members of the settled community.

Mr Hill replied: 'We continually keep the matter under review. We are certainly considering the further strengthening of planning powers. We are seized of the fact that the availability of authorised sites has dried up over the years'.

Hansard 22 Oct 2003: Column 627 - 628

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