Beds, Herts & Bucks

Travellers parliamentary bill aims for integration, says MP

Woodlands traveller site in Biggleswade
Image caption Woodlands in Biggleswade, run by Central Bedfordshire Council, is an example of what Mr Selous describes as a segregated travellers' site

A proposed law aimed at integrating travellers with the settled community could be the "next best thing", a travellers' group said.

Currently, many travellers live on council-run caravan sites which are separate from other residential areas.

A parliamentary bill from Beds MP Andrew Selous proposes councils must offer housing to more travellers.

Cliff Cardona, a travellers' spokesman, said it might be the "next best thing" as long as other traditions were kept.

The Private Member's Bill is due to be read in Parliament on 25 January, and Mr Selous, Conservative MP for South West Bedfordshire, said the current system of having designated sites for gypsies and travellers "pits community against community".

It proposes that caravan sites could be converted into settled accommodation, more provision should be made for the education of traveller children and schools should be required to teach more about gypsy and traveller culture.

'Proper integration'

During the first reading of his Gypsy and Traveller Communities Bill in November, he said local councils should be obliged to offer settled homes to traveller families to improve relations with the settled, non-traveller population.

"There are already examples of this in my constituency," he told the BBC's Sunday Politics East programme.

"Parents are now in work, children are attending schools regularly and there is proper integration which you don't have when a separate area is designated for travellers."

Image caption Cliff Codona says travellers want to retain their traditional way of life

Mr Codona, chairman of the National Travellers' Action Group who lives in the Wisbech area in Cambridgeshire, said many travellers would prefer permanent housing and wanted to "change with the times".

"We have to be sensible about it and this might be the next best thing for travellers, if they can pay the rent or the mortgage," he said.

But Mr Codona said travelling traditions must not be lost.

"Even if we are living in houses, we will still have our caravans and our horses," he added.

The bill also proposes that temporary caravan sites should continue to be provided if necessary.

Mr Selous admitted his bill was unlikely to become law, but he hoped it would stimulate government action into reviewing traveller legislation which dated back to the 1960s.

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