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'Gypsy and traveller sites discussion used as political football'
A charity representing the gypsy and traveller community has warned local politicians not to use the issue of where new permanent pitches should be situated as a "political football".
Mike Doherty, of the Travellers Movement, together with George Lister, chairman of the Sussex Traveller and Gypsy Group, wrote an open letter to Timothy Nathan, chairman of Stamford Ward Residents’ Association, and Councillor Sheila Carlson.
They were responding to heated public debate this month over where new permanent gypsy and traveller sites should be built in Epsom and Ewell - something that is the subject of a review being undertaken by Epsom Council.
Coun Carlson revealed to this newspaper that areas of scrubland around the smart Manor Park housing development and a portion of Hook Road Arena were in the frame - and completely rejected the latter.
Their letter said: "Gypsies and travellers living on authorised sites pay rates, bills and taxes in the same way as people living in houses.
"Epsom and Ewell Council has a duty to provide housing for all its residents, including gypsies and travellers.
"This is not ‘one law for them and one law for us’, it is equality and it is fair.
"When the proposals for new pitches finally come out and gypsies and travellers are again in danger of becoming a political football, can we please ask all the campaigners to mind their language and be aware of our common humanity."
The men said they have contacted the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to raise their concerns about campaigning "that may have a discriminatory element or contain prejudicial publicity".
Responding to their letter, Mr Nathan said he did not believe he had made any such statements.
He said: "I wonder if you are seeking and expecting prejudice and confrontation where there is none?
"It is interesting to hear your statement that travellers have normal jobs and pay their taxes. There appears to be a body of opinion among those that contact us that they do not believe that to be generally true, and it is useful for us to be able to refute it.
"We would welcome the scrutiny of the Equality and Human Rights Commission."
Mr Doherty and Mr Lister also said the 20 pitches required for gypsies and travellers in Epsom and Ewell in the period up to 2026 is a "tiny part" of the council’s target for new homes - which is 3,600.
An Epsom Council spokesman could it not now provide any timescale for when the proposals would be published and considered except to confirm they will go to the planning policy committee "later in the year".
He said: "No decisions will be made without adequate opportunity being provided for input from interested parties.
"When the initial consultation takes place it will be on options only.
"The process for formal allocation of any sites would then involve a further six-week round of consultation and a formal examination in front of an independent inspector from the Planning Inspectorate.
"There will be ample opportunity for members of the public to make their views known."
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