Eric Pickles is under fire after issuing new guidelines on how to tackle illegal traveller sites, with campaigners claiming he would spark an “open season on ethnic minorities”.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is facing accusations of “grandstanding” and reinforcing “negative stereotypes” about travellers after he claimed councils must act more quickly to shut down unauthorised encampments.
The new guidance from the Department of Communities and Local Government outline the legal powers councils and landowners have to remove unauthorised traveller sites as well as protest camps and squatters from public and private land.
At the moment it seems like a theme. Recently we have had the Go Home campaign, then we have the bongo bongo thing
Joseph Jones, Gypsy Council
His comments have been likened by the Gypsy Council’s Joseph Jones to Ukip MEP Godfrey Bloom’s “bong bongo land” remark on foreign aid and the Home Office’s unpopular immigration van.
Speaking on Sky News Jones declared: “It seems like open season on ethnic minorities.”
“At the moment it seems like a theme. Recently we have had the Go Home campaign, then we have the bongo bongo thing going on.”
“Local authorities already know how to manage unauthorised encampments. They don’t need the government to tell them how to do it.
A statement from the Department of Local Government and Communities said councils “need the political will to uphold the law”.
Mr Pickles said he wants councils to be ready to take action to stop illegal camps “starting in the first place”.
Too often, council officers wash their hands and say nothing can be done. This is not the case. Eric Pickles, communities secretary
“Decisive action early on saves money and unnecessary upset for local residents,” he stated.
“Too often, council officers wash their hands and say nothing can be done. This is not the case.
“The public want to see fair play, with planning rules enforced consistently, rather than special treatment being given to certain groups.”
Mr Pickles has revoked Labour’s equality and diversity in planning guidance, which he said told councils not to take enforcement action against unauthorised travellers.
He has denied the powers are an attack on the traveller community and said £60m was being made available to local authorities for new legal sites.
The move is reportedly aimed at preventing another situation like Dale Farm, where a long-running legal battle was fought before bailiffs evicted traveller families from the Essex site.
More than 300 officers were involved and the operation saw violent clashes. The total cost of the clearance was £7m, with Basildon Council spending £4.m.