A caravan is set on fire during the eviction at Dale Farm

Pickles ‘grandstanding’ with anti-Gypsy camp promise

Pickles ‘grandstanding’ with anti-Gypsy camp promise

Eric Pickles was accused of attacking Gypsies to boost his political reputation today, after he pledged to help councils clamp down on travellers' sites.

The communities secretary said new guidance would give local authorities an easier job shutting down illegal sites and protest camps.

"We've strengthened councils' powers so they have the confidence to take decisive action," Pickles said.

"Too often council officers wash their hands and say nothing can be done. This is not the case.

"The public want to see fair play with planning rules enforced consistently rather than special treatment being given to certain groups."

But Joseph Jones, chairman of the Gypsy Council, said the government was cementing negative associations around gypsies.

"It's creating tension, it's a negative thing to do," he told Sky News.

"Local authorities already know how to manage unauthorised encampments, they don't need the government to tell them how to do it.

"This latest statement Mr Pickles has put out doesn't have anything new in it. It doesn't have any new powers or anything like that.

"It just seems to me like a bit of grandstanding."

He added: ""It's creating tension. It's a negative thing to do.

"At the moment it seems like a theme. Recently we have had the 'go home' campaign, then we have the bongo bongo thing going on. It seems like open season on ethnic minorities."

Pickles insists that councils should find it easier to implement enforcement action after he scrapped equality and diversity in planning guidance, which covers travellers sites, protest camps and squatting.

David Cameron said: "The same law should apply to everybody and just as you can't suddenly change your house without permission, you can't suddenly set up an encampment without permission."

Current powers allow local authorities to remove caravans, pre-emptively protect land and implement possession orders.

Such moves are usually strongly supported by local residents.

But campaigners warn that prejudice against travellers is still pervasive in society and politicians often try to boost their own reputation by acting tough on camps.

A 2011 eviction at Dale Farm saw police enter with tasers after a ten-year long eviction battle through the courts.