Travellers and Gypsies protest in Hackney over government proposals to redefine their ethnic status

Travellers about to set off on their protest in Hackney

Travellers about to set off on their protest in Hackney - Credit: Archant

Travellers and Gypsies fear government proposals to redefine their ethnic status as part of sweeping new planning policy proposals could destroy their culture and rob them of their identity.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is consulting on whether the definition of ‘Traveller’ in planning policy should be limited to those who have a nomadic lifestyle, and not to those who once travelled but have now permanently settled in one place.

This would mean any Travellers on waiting sites for pitches would no longer be eligible.

But many people in the community feel they have been forced to live in bricks and mortar out of necessity, because there are not enough sites for them to live on.

People from the travelling community held a rally outside the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit (LGTU) in Westgate Street, London Fields last Wednesday, before marching to the DCLG in Westminster to hand their objections to the consultation.

Emma Milne from the LGTU said: “People feel that they have been forced to settle over the last few years, and that travelling permanently is no longer a real option, and now with these changes those that have settled feel they are being told they are no longer Travellers and are having their identity taken away.”

“People feel that no one ever gives up travelling permanently, they travel as much as they can whilst allowing for constraints of education, employment, health and those imposed by site licences, for example many people pointed to their site licences saying they could only travel for 16 weeks a year.

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“Many of the group are waiting for the chance to move onto sites, but if these policy changes come in the concern was that they would no longer be counted as a Traveller and therefore they would no longer be counted as needing a pitch on a site.

“This would leave them permanently stuck in housing.”

In Hackney there are five caravan sites with 27 pitches for 27 Traveller families.

Planning Minister Brandon Lewis said: “The public want to see fair play in the planning system, with people being treated fairly and equally.

“We are suggesting in our consultation that travellers who have settled and permanently stopped travelling should be treated in the same way as all other members of the settled community, whilst those with genuinely nomadic lifestyles should continue to be treated as travellers in planning law. This is just common sense.”

The proposals would need to become a new bill as part of the Housing Act before they could be adopted.