London: Catholic agency calls for fair provision of Travellers sites

 The Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) issued the following statement today:

Over many centuries, Britain has become a diverse community, made up of people with different languages, religious traditions, cultures and ways of life. This diversity is both a richness and a challenge. To meet this challenge, we must learn to live together with mutual respect and with each individual and each group granting to others their rights in justice and under the law. If we acknowledge the rights of one group and ignore the rights of another, we betray that deeply British belief in fairness for all.

The situation in Essex, recently highlighted by the press, and similar situations elsewhere, are not easy for anyone. They are especially difficult for those in authority who must at times balance the competing rights of different groups. They are also difficult for those in the media who must avoid polarising people and fostering divisions. Finally, they are difficult for all those involved the dispute over conflicting rights, for in addition to asserting their own rights, they must understand the perspectives of others and work for the good of the whole community.

We have an obligation in justice to provide adequate sites for Gypsies and Travellers, just as we have an obligation in justice to provide sufficient affordable housing for the whole community. When new sites are needed, those in authority must find a way of providing these without trampling on the rights of local people already living in an area. At the same time, settled communities cannot refuse to accommodate the needs of Gypsies and Travellers.

The need for suitable site provision for Travellers and Gypsies has been clearly identified through the Traveller and Gypsy Accommodation Needs Assessments which each Local Authority has carried out over the past two years in line with their legal requirements. It is in our view both a moral and a legal imperative of Local Authorities to meet this identified need. This site provision is absolutely necessary if Travellers and Gypsies are to achieve adequate levels of social inclusion.

It is important that the provision of these sites is carried out in a sustainable and managed way that will best serve both the settled community and the Traveller and Gypsy communities needs.

We are saddened and alarmed by the recent comments reported in the press. Such comments are bordering on racist and may even be considered
as inciting racial hatred. This is something that must be deplored in the strongest of terms.

We all need to work together in addressing the problem of inadequate site provision and ensuring that sites are delivered. Only in this way will the problems of illegal encampments and developments be overcome.

We all have a responsibility to foster good relations between the different groups that make up our society and to create out of our diversity a cohesive community, characterised by mutual respect, understanding and cooperation for the common good of all.

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