Traveller site guidance condemned
Politicians have been accused of sparking an "open season on ethnic minorities" after the Government issued new guidelines to tackle illegal traveller sites.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was accused of "grandstanding" and reinforcing "negative stereotypes" about travellers and gypsies after saying councils must act more quickly to shut down unauthorised encampments.
New guidance from the Department of Communities and Local Government outlines the legal powers councils and landowners have to remove unauthorised traveller sites, protest camps and squatters from both public and private land, as well as tackling the mess caused by the sites.
Joseph Jones, chairman of the Gypsy Council, likened Pickles' actions to the Home Office's controversial clampdown on illegal immigrants in London using a van telling them to go home, and the furore over Ukip MEP Godfrey Bloom's "bongo bongo land" comments about foreign aid spending.
"It's creating tension, it's a negative thing to do," he told Sky News.
"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. It seems like open season on ethnic minorities."
Mr Jones dismissed as "nothing new" the summary of powers sent directly to local council leaders, which the Government hopes will give local residents a stronger voice in challenging their local authority to take action.
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, and suggested planning rules should be applied differently to individuals depending on their background.
Powers that can be used include temporary stop notices to stop and remove unauthorised caravans, pre-emptive injunctions that protect vulnerable land in advance from unauthorised encampments and possession orders to remove trespassers from land.
The DCLG said the move is aimed at preventing another incident like Dale Farm, where a long-running legal battle was fought before bailiffs moved in to evict travellers from the site in Essex, with the clearance costing £7 million in total.