A TRAVELLERS’ organisation has hit back at Hartlepool Borough Council’s decision to rip up its planning blueprint to block a gypsy site in Hart.
The Traveller Movement slammed the council after it agreed to scrap its Local Plan after previously assigning land at Hart to accommodate gypsies and travellers and examine if the town needs to provide any sites.
The group also singled out Hart ward councillor Paul Beck for criticism after he said the gypsy sites proposed for Hart would “blight the whole ward”.
The Traveller Movement has lodged an official complaint to the council’s audit and governance committee and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission over Coun Beck’s comments.
But Coun Beck insists he has nothing against gypsies or travellers and was merely backing his residents.
The Traveller Movement is a registered charity that aims to raise capacity and social inclusion of the Irish Traveller community in Britain.
Spokesman Mike Doherty said: “We are concerned and alarmed that Hartlepool Council is threatening to waste even more taxpayers’ money by ripping up their Gypsy/Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessment.
“We would like to remind them that it is required to have such an assessment by law.”
Referring to Coun Beck, Mr Doherty added: “By calling a proposal for a legitimate authorised traveller site a ‘blight’, Coun Beck has failed in his duties and responsibilities as an elected local government representative.
“In our book, it means a blemish, a disease or a corruption. Does this mean that Mr Beck considers Romany Gypsy or travelling people to be a disease?
“We would like to remind everyone that the proposal was only for six to eight pitches and that small family sites such as this are often a valuable part of the communities that they are embedded in.
“It is such a shame that the campaigners have succeeded in denying the chance of a home for one or two gypsy and traveller families when there is such an acute shortage of such accommodation in the UK as a whole.”
Coun Beck said he had “nothing whatsoever” against gypsies, but said a site at Hart would have a major impact on the village and insisted he was representing residents’ views.
He said: “They are human beings and have got to live somewhere, but there is no demand in Hartlepool at the moment.
“The west site would be so visible from the main road. People would find it hard to sell their homes so in that sense it would blight the Hart ward.”
Coun Beck added: “I was brought up in a little village in Oxfordshire were there was a gypsy and traveller site within about a mile and I used to play on their land and got on great with them.
“I have got nothing against them whatsoever, all I’m doing is backing my residents.”
A council spokesman said: “This council is fully committed to diversity and equality and has absolutely no issue with the travelling community.
“However, the council’s new administration has made a firm commitment to make decisions which resonate with the people of Hartlepool.
“Having listened to widespread concerns expressed by local people about the proposed location of a gypsy and traveller site, the council is fully within its rights to withdraw the Local Plan and to revisit the matter of potential gypsy and traveller site provision to determine whether there is sufficient need and demand to provide a site at all.”