London Mayor slammed over ‘U-turn’ on traveller sites

Jennette Arnold OBE AM  with Christine Cauley, housed traveller from Hackney; and Frieda Schiker, Director of London Gypsy and Travellers Unit

Jennette Arnold OBE AM with Christine Cauley, housed traveller from Hackney; and Frieda Schiker, Director of London Gypsy and Travellers Unit

London Mayor Boris Johnson was accused of “blatant discrimination” by London assembly member Jennette Arnold on Wednesday (13 October) at this month’s Mayor’s Question Time, following his proposal to scrap targets for Traveller pitches from the London Plan.

Ms Arnold, who represents the capital’s northeast constituency (which includes Hackney), said the mayor had made a U-turn over the removal of council quotas for new sites.

“I believe that your actions amount to blatant discrimination to the London ethnic Gypsy and Traveller group,” she told Mayor Johnson.

The Mayor, however, rejected the allegations, saying: “I appreciate the needs of those who have an aversion to bricks and mortar.”

The London Plan, a twenty-five year scheme for London’s housing and planning, originally allocated 554 new gypsy sites across London’s boroughs,  as recommended by the 2008 Fordham assessment. Under the new draft, each council would be free to chose whether to create any new sites if the Mayor scraps policy 3.9 of the London Plan, which sets out how many pitches each local authority should provide.

Some, like Hackney, have recently built new sites but others “have not built a single one, even though they had a statutory responsibility,” said Ms Arnold.

Mr Johnson responded: “There are plenty of other groups that have particular housing needs – the elderly or students – and we don’t feature them in the London Plan. We are content to leave it to the boroughs.

“There is an issue of equity. For a Gypsy or Traveller’s pitch you’re talking about 30 units per hectare compared to 130 units for other housing in this city, so they are very space-hungry commitments and I think it is sensible to work with the boroughs to satisfy the demand in their areas.”

Ms Arnold announced her intention to inform the Equality and Human Rights Commission about the situation.

The amendment to the plan has also proved controversial with other assembly members.

Two days previously (Monday 11 October), John Biggs, assembly member for City and East London, joined Ms Arnold and protesters from Hackney as they demonstrated outside City Hall to demonstrate against the decision. More than 50 men, women and children from the gypsy and traveller community protested outside, whilst inside the London Plan Scrutiny Panel and industry experts debated Boris Johnson’s plans to scrap targets to provide new pitches for Gypsies and Travellers across London.

Jennette Arnold AM said: “The Mayor says that he represents all Londoners, but when he discriminates so blatantly against one of London’s ethnic groups it makes this hard to believe.

“Targets mean pitches can be spread evenly and fairly across London. At the moment we have 27 pitches in Hackney but Barnet, for example, has never had any. This sets a very worrying precedent with the Mayor of London deciding that he will help some councils keep certain groups of Londoners out of their backyard. London’s Mayor needs to step up, take a real lead on this issue and truly represent all Londoners.”

Christine Cawley, (pictured) one of the protesters from Hackney, said: “I am a housed Traveller living in Hackney. I don’t want to be living in housing but I have to because of the lack of pitches available in London. There is no other group in London whose culture and way of life is so discriminated against. The Mayor has no understanding of the damage done to our community when we cannot live as Travellers.”

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