Government minister Shahid Malik’s admission that this country’s nomadic fraternity does get special treatment over planning laws only confirmed what much of the population already suspected.
But the reasoning behind the ‘us and them’ policy, which has been introduced in the name of fairness, is most disturbing.
“Fairness,” says Communities Secretary Mr Malik “does not mean treating people equally – it means addressing the different needs of people.”
What a load of old cobblers! If people are not treated equally in the eyes of any law, the whole thing becomes unfair, unworkable and a recipe for disaster.
It is also why groups of travellers buy up land and in one fell swoop – usually over a Bank Holiday weekend when planning staff are not at their desks – move their ‘mobile’ homes (mobile being an ironic overstatement here) onto a site, complete with all mod cons (electricity, water, sewerage, access etc).
Logistically, it is a well co-ordinated operation – some builders could perhaps learn a few lessons from them! – but once the mobile homes are in situ and occupied by the now stationary travellers, it is very difficult to reverse. In fact, the issue then seems to cease being one of planning and becomes human: i.e. We’re here now. If you evict us, where are we going to live?
And that could be described as a form of blackmail – from a section of the community who presumably chose to opt out of ‘settled’ society for a life of freedom on the open road in the first place. Brilliant, eh!
So, after the planners have exhausted all legal avenues and the newly inhabited site has suddenly become permanent, it is hardly surprising that members of settled society – who have to abide by planning laws – get a tad upset. Discrimination? What an outrageous suggestion!
Part of the problem can be traced back to a Government decision in 2000 to classify gipsies and Irish travellers as distinct racial groups under the Race Relations Act, plus changes to the planning law. Furthermore, guidelines on how to deal with gipsy and traveller camps, issued to council planners by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2005, state that treating everyone the same does not ensure equality, adding: “Explicit recognition of difference is needed to ensure that the right action can be taken to deliver a planning service responsive to different needs within the communities it serves.”
And the result? Council planners with their hands tied – plus the continuing problem of illegal settlements springing up all over the country, in spite of the Goverment increasing the number of legal sites.
So, while the nomads rub their hands in glee – maybe in anticipation of ‘working’ the totally flawed planning system over this August Bank Holiday weekend – members of ‘settled’ society are left shaking their heads in disbelief.
‘Fairness’, Mr Malik? With a policy that singles out one section of society over another, I don’t think so. It’s high time for a rethink.