MP attacks planning rules that allow gypsies and travellers to abuse system

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Andrew Selous this week attacked his own government’s planning laws that allow travellers and gypsies to abuse the system and rip apart community cohesion.

He spoke out in the House of Commons saying that the inequality of treatment between settled residents and travellers caused “significant fear, distrust and upset.”

In a hard-hitting speech he said: “If you can demonstrate or simply declare that you are a traveller, you acquire highly lucrative planning rights that are not available to the rest of the population.

“These rights are going to some individuals who are very wealthy or become very wealthy as a result; they’re not all vulnerable individuals.

He said the current situation was no longer tenable.

“I believe that central government is forcing local authorities to take many extremely unpalatable decisions which are causing a lot of anxiety and anger both in rural and urban communities.”

He also challenged the idea that travellers moved around regularly.

After the debate Mr Selous, who recently wrote to Central Beds Council objecting to a planning application to site another traveller family in Little Billington, was accused of being anti-gypsy but he refuted the claim.

“In reality, over three-quarters of gypsies and travellers live in houses or flats so you have to question the whole policy of having a separate planning policy for gypsies and travellers.

“A woman in Stanbridge told me that her businessman husband travels more for work than travellers do.”

Official figures from the Office of National Statistics last month showed that gypsies were more likely to be unhealthy, jobless and poorly educated than the rest of the population.

They also revealed that just one in four gypsies and Irish travellers lived in a caravan. Mr Selous also revealed that they had the lowest level of work of any ethnicity at 47 per cent compared to a national figure of 63 per cent in England and Wales.

While 60 per cent of the gypsy and traveller adults had no qualifications the corresponding figure for the rest of the nation is just 23 per cent.

He said: “We have more travellers in Billington than settled residents.

“I feel very strongly that we shouldn’t have a separate planning policy for gypsies and travellers. It does nothing for community cohesion.

“I’m not a gypsy hater. I’m interested in fairness. I’ve tried very hard to go into action and speak out on issues that concern both myself and my constituents and this is a big issue with them. I’m not prepared to sit on the fence about this.

“For you or I to get planning permission for something in Billlington (which is in the Green Belt) we’d probably have to pay millions to win planning permission for a bricks and mortar house but not for travellers.

“And there’s no definition as to what a traveller actually is. I know someone who self-declared himself a traveller to win planning permission to put caravans on his land.

“Apparently all he needed was a letter from the Gypsy Council declaring that he was a gypsy.

“If travellers moved around and needed a transit camp for a few nights stay then I think people would understand. But that isn’t the case.

“The council gets a lot of stick but the blame really lies with me and my colleagues in government and past governments going back many years.

“I feel really sorry for Billington and I felt that I should speak out.

“I strongly believe that everyone deserves a home but there should be equality and fairness. After all, we don’t have a separate planning policy for any other ethnic group so why should we for gypsies and travellers?

“The current system is unhelpful and unworkable.”