London Mayor Boris Johnson has been reported to the UK’s equality watchdog after dropping a requirement for London councils to build gypsy and traveller pitches from his development strategy.
The Mayor has originally included a requirement to provide 238 sites – down from a Government figure of 811 sites – in his draft London Plan before removing the target from the final plan.
That decision led to angry exchanges at October’s Mayor’s Question Time when Labour Assembly Member Jennette Arnold accused the Mayor of discriminating against the capital’s traveller community. Defending the removal of the target the Mayor said the provision of sites was a matter best dealt with by local councils.
Today Arnold announced she’d asked Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) “to investigate” whether the move breached race, equalities and human rights legislation.
In her letter to the EHRC Ms Arnold claimed the dropping of targets “could have the effect of reducing the provision of pitches made available to them by the London Boroughs, or lead to other unforeseen discrimination taking place.”
In a statement Arnold said: “Gypsies and travellers are a legally recognised ethnic group and the Mayor has a legal duty to have regard to their needs. His failure to stand by the findings of the needs assessment in my view amounts to unlawful discrimination.
“Twenty years ago I worked very closely with this community as a health visitor so I’m well aware how badly they are treated and the daily persecution they face.”
In a statement posted on Ms Arnold’s blog, Helena Kiely, an Irish traveller from the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit, commented: “It’s hard to see what else this could be other than discrimination as all the evidence shows if it’s left to local boroughs there just won’t be authorised pitches in London. Boris is our Mayor too and he’s there to represent us, not discriminate against us in this way.”
Responding to news of Ms Arnold’s letter to the EHRC, a spokesperson for the Mayor told this site: “The Mayor has consistently stated his view that the provision of pitches for gypsies and travellers is a matter that is most effectively dealt with at a local level by boroughs with the powers, resources and local knowledge to be able to take practical direct action to meet these needs.
“Recent Government action has given him the flexibility to take this course. He has of course taken full account of all the relevant planning and equalities legislation at every step of this process in ensuring that all legal duties have been complied with.”