Howard will take action against illegal traveller camps

Contributed by editor on Mar 21, 2005 - 11:09 AM


Folkestone and Hythe MP and Tory leader Michael Howard has promised a package of measures to stop illegal traveller camps and unauthorised developments.

Mr Howard has claimed that some travellers are bending planning laws, using the Human Rights Act to build settlements wherever they like. The Party leader has warned that travellers have been allowed to remain on unlawful sites because of their 'right' to family life. He will set out details of his proposals in a speech on Monday.

In an advertisement carried in a series of Sunday newspapers, Mr Howard argues: "If you want to build a new home you have to get planning permission first. But if you are a traveller you can bend planning law - building where you like thanks to the Human Rights Act. It's not fair that there's one rule for travellers and another for everyone else."

In his speech, Mr Howard will insist that Conservatives believe in freedom, and that people should be at liberty to live their lives in different ways.

But he will argue that that freedom must be exercised while observing responsibilities to the wider community. While the "vast majority" of travellers accept that, he will argue, a "small minority" do not, and are wilfully abusing the planning system.

The action plan to be laid out by Mr Howard will include:

- Reviewing or repealing the Human Rights Act. A Conservative government would reconsider the Act with a view to ensuring that it could not be used to frustrate the enforcement of the laws against unauthorised development of land. If the Act could not be amended suitably, it would be scrapped.

- Councils would be given new powers to ensure the rapid removal of caravans from illegal sites, and courts would have powers to levy larger fines.

- Local authorities would be given new powers to purchase land compulsorily, where the land was the subject of a continuing breach of a Stop Notice. The objective would be to protect local residents from being pressurised into buying land from speculators at inflated prices, in order to avoid the threat of illegal encampments.

- Revised guidance to police and councils, encouraging them to use their powers to deal with trespass by travellers, and to tackle criminal or anti-social behaviour on traveller sites.

- Giving local people a greater say on where sites go. Conservatives would oppose the imposition on quotas on councils to provide traveller camps by unelected regional quangos.