Spelman: 'Balance needed' over travellers' camps

Caroline Spelman
Image caption Ms Spelman says more authorised travellers' camps are needed

There should be a "balance" between the settled community and travellers, the environment secretary has said ahead of a meeting on unauthorised camps.

Caroline Spelman spoke before a meeting in her West Midlands constituency by demonstrators protesting against an encampment on green-belt land.

New legislation on travellers' camps will be tabled in Parliament on Monday.

Travellers' Times magazine's Jake Bowers accused protesters of "racism" and said travellers owned the land.

A round-the-clock demonstration has been staged for more than six months in the Warwickshire village of Meriden against a travellers' encampment.

The travellers, who moved on to the site over a Bank Holiday weekend, argue they have nowhere else to go and have a right to the land.

'Need more sites'

Ms Spelman, who attended the conference, said the new legislation introduced by the coalition government would bring "fairness between the settled and travelling communities".

She added it would make provision for more authorised sites, while closing a loophole that allows travellers to apply for and obtain retrospective planning permission after setting up camp.

"I don't think it is an issue of racism," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"There is an issue with planning law, there is a problem and the new government wants to try to address the problem, which is not new.

"There needs to be a balance between the settled community, like the villagers here in Meriden, and the travelling community.

"We need more authorised sites.

"The travelling community should be indeed travelling. The problem with our authorised site is people come and they stay, so it fills up the site."

Jake Bowers, editor of Travellers' Times magazine, asked why travellers had been excluded from the conference.

He told the programme: "Whilst there are some people in that village who are primarily concerned about the environment, the majority of people you speak to, when the mask slips, the real reason they are there is because there are gypsies in their village and they don't like it.

"I don't think anybody would say that moving on to green belt is an ideal solution, but the people on that site would say it is an issue of necessity."

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