Travellers Take Over Land Near St Oswalds Retirement site.

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In the face of growing numbers of illegal Gypsy sites, council chiefs in Gloucestershire this week announced a public consultation for the whole county, which will run from this Monday until September 20, where the public nominate sites for official council traveller camps. Council chiefs in the Cheltenham, Cotswold and Tewkesbury areas say they have to find a five-year supply of Gypsy sites, or risk losing appeals on unauthorised sites. Gloucestershire has four sites, all of which are full.

It emerged today that West Country MPs have leapt to the defence of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles after he was accused of “sparking an open season on ethnic minorities” by overturning a controversial planning rule in favour of Gypsies and travellers.

Mr Pickles scrapped a New Labour planning rule which ordered local councils to take into account – and judge differently – the gypsy or traveller background of someone applying to create a caravan site.

The rule was controversial in the South West, after Gypsies used it to buy up farmland across Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, created a travellers’ site and then applied for retrospective planning permission, often winning on appeal.

Mr Pickles said the rule was revoked in the face of a four-fold increase in the number of illegal Gypsy sites, but denied it was an attack on the traveller community.

Joseph Jones, chairman of the Gypsy Council, said the new guidance issued by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to councils in the West should be looked at alongside the Home Office’s controversial van adverts telling illegal immigrants to go home.

“It’s creating tension, it’s a negative thing to do,” he said. “At the moment it seems like a theme. Recently we have had the ‘Go Home’ campaign. It seems like open season on ethnic minorities.

“Local authorities already know how to manage unauthorised encampments, they don’t need the Government to tell them how to do it. This latest statement Mr Pickles has put out doesn’t have anything new in it. It doesn’t have any new powers or anything like that. It just seems to me like a bit of grandstanding,” he added.

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