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Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2006

21. What assessment she has made of issues relating to travellers in Billericay and district; and if she will make a statement. (81879)

I am aware that in Basildon there are currently 185 caravans on unauthorised developments. The Government have offered to work with Basildon and neighbouring authorities to identify alternative sites for Travellers currently on unauthorised developments. The primary responsibility for addressing those issues rests with Basildon council.

The Minister will be aware that with the largest Traveller site in the UK, if not Europe, situated in Crays Hill in my constituency, there is a widespread belief that there is a Government bias in favour of Travellers when it comes to illegal sites, as evidenced by the two-year and four-year stays of execution recently given to unlawful Travellers. Nowhere does that bias seem more evident than in the Government’s unwillingness to meet local residents from Crays Hill, Hovefields and Pitsea to discuss the matter. As I have a letter from the Minister stating that the Government regularly meet local Travellers—they have wined and dined them—does the Minister think that the Government’s refusal to meet local residents is fair, and what is she going to do about it?

Strong powers are available to local authorities to address unauthorised camping and antisocial behaviour, where it occurs. The key to effective enforcement lies in new site provision.

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have not met local Travellers to discuss the issue, and that I do not intend to do so. I do not intend meet local residents either because, as other Ministers and I have told him, while a planning application is ongoing it is inappropriate for Ministers to engage in discussions with parties when they may have to make a decision.