The numbers of traveller sites in South Bedfordshire is driving away business, MP Andrew Selous told a public inquiry.
The South West Bedfordshire MP was giving evidence at the Central Bedfordshire Local Plan inquiry last week.
Labelling it “a policy of segregation”, Conservative Mr Selous criticised legislation around gipsy and traveller provision.
“I believe everyone has the right to a decent home, traveller or settled.
“I want everyone to be properly housed,” said Mr Selous. “I am extremely proud to represent an area that’s absorbed waves of different groups over many years, including Italians, Polish and Irish.
“That has not been the case and is not the case in terms of travellers within this area.
“You have received a lot of anonymous contributions to this planning policy inquiry, which have come through my name.
“That is because there is a lot of fear about the situation, and I have constituents that live in fear and have suffered very greatly.
“Indeed I have a number of constituents who have written to me and are looking to move out of the area because they don’t feel safe because of what is happening here.
“Community cohesion has failed massively,” he warned. “We have separate communities, who don’t mix and frankly who live in fear of each other.
“And it is to do with the numbers because again we have the third highest number of caravans in the UK. In 2017 I believe it was 538.
“If you add in the unauthorised number of caravans I believe we’re actually the highest in the UK within this area.
“Of the 38 travellers sites in Central Bedfordshire, 19 of those are around Leighton Buzzard and are having a very significant impact on the villages around the town, in Leighton Buzzard itself, and in Houghton Regis and Dunstable.
“I know Bedfordshire Police are very concerned about the current policy,” he explained.
“They have expressed concerns about the impact of the planning policy which is happening locally.
“Most of the travellers in this constituency have no link to Central Bedfordshire,” added Mr Selous.
“We’re talking about gipsy and traveller need. If you go on to these sites you will see there’s a lot of sub-letting to non-travellers.
“A lot of these sites are owned by very wealthy people, who live in brick-built houses elsewhere, in London or in Ireland.
“We already have 38 travellers’ sites,” he told the inquiry. “We have many non-travellers on them.
“We know we have a lot of Eastern European non-travellers. We know of three instances of people being kept in slavery.
“We should be reducing the number of pitches we have here because we have the highest number in the UK.
“What I am asking you to do today is not to add to the numbers because we have a difficult problem we are trying to manage.
“We are trying to improve community cohesion. We are trying to improve law and order.
“And we’re trying to improve the quality of people’s lives, so they don’t live in fear and feel the need to move away from this area because they don’t feel safe.
“Recently I met two business people who were looking to invest in Leighton Buzzard. Both of them have decided not to do so.
“One told me he thought his vans were going to be stolen and the other told me that he thought there would be too much shoplifting if he opened a shop.
“This is an area which effects the whole of my constituency.
“My contention is this is an area committed to significant housebuilding.
“I am working privately with communities, and with local government housing ministers and officials to amend this policy.”
Saira Sheikh QC, for CBC, said: “The points are perhaps a little bit at odds with the process here.
“One of the main points he makes is there are a lot of non-gipsy and travellers on various sites.
“That’s obviously an enforcement matter for the council, and the council will take that up. There is of course a duty to facilitate the gipsy and traveller way of life as a matter of law.
“The council has to make provision in policy to facilitate this and that’s all the council is doing through its policies. There is a proper enforcement process.”
Planning inspector Matthew Birkinshaw threatened to halt the session if the members of the public continued to applaud certain contributions.