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U.K. municipality forced to provide a permanent site for Gypsy community

15 August 2001

During the first week of April 2001, according to information provided to the ERRC by the National Civil Rights Movement (South West), the then-Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr John Prescott, returned a planning application for a permanent caravan site for Plymouth's Gypsy community on The Ride at Chelsea Meadow to Plymouth City Council with a "no interest" declaration. This is effectively an approval of the planning application. In 1973, Plymouth City Council closed the only Gypsy Caravan site in the municipality, forcing fifteen families onto the road. After several years of being consistently moved on, the families settled on a piece of land owned by the National Trust, a non-governmental heritage organisation in the United Kingdom. The land was at that time being used by the city as a refuse dump. The families remained there for approximately twenty years, following the City Council's refusal to provide them with a permanent site. In February 2000, the National Trust initiated eviction procedures and the group was forcibly evicted by bulldozers, eighty private security guards and a thirty-strong squad of police in full riot gear; the families were forced from their home of thirty years and back onto the road.

In response to the subsequent formation of the Campaign for Justice For The Plymouth Gypsies, which received considerable local support, Plymouth City Council commissioned a report on the situation of the group and was informed that, for the past twenty years, the municipality had failed to meet its statutory duty under the 1964 Caravan Sites Act, the Children's Act and the Community Care Act, and that it would face great difficulty in defending its actions under the 1998 Human Rights Act and the 1976 Race Relations Act. Plymouth City Council therefore agreed to build a permanent site. Although the National Trust objected to the planning proposal, the non-governmental organisation National Civil Rights Movement (South West) was informed by the City Council's Director for Regeneration that the names of those who wrote to register formally their support for the site proposal ran to eight pages. Although the United Kingdom government has successfully fought a number of cases concerning Gypsies and planning applications before the European Court of Human Rights, the Court has described the government's failure to meet its domestic and international obligations regarding the Gypsy community and housing as "deplorable". Legal comment on the most recent ruling by the Court on UK Roma rights cases is provided in this issue of Roma Rights, on page 87.

(ERRC, National Civil Rights Movement (South West))

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