Government to introduce new powers over traveller sites

A number of changes to tackle illegal gypsy and traveller sites are to be introduced, the government has said.

Ministers want to prevent travellers from buying land then laying down concrete during bank holiday weekends.

The travellers know they have three days to work without interference from planning authorities at these times.

Councils will be given new powers to stop settlements and they will be told to ensure enforcement officials are on duty at weekends.

BBC political correspondent Ben Wright said local government minister Bob Neill believed tensions with travelling communities were inflamed because of a perception of unfairness in the planning system.

Grants programme

The minister blamed what he called the previous Labour government's arbitrary diversity dictats for undermining relations.

The government said it was unfair on homeowners that some travellers set up home on sites at weekends and bank holidays, then put in a planning application - a process which can take several months.

A spokesman denied that the moves amounted to a crackdown on travellers and gypsies, and said ministers were committed to giving travellers better access to health and education.

However, Bill Laws, editor of Travellers' Times, estimated that one-fifth of travellers had nowhere to live.

He said a shortage of sites was the key problem.

This year's £30m gypsy and traveller programme, which provided grants for new sites, was scrapped in May.

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