Official take on the number of travellers setting up camp in Preston

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More traveller caravans are pitching up in Preston than a decade ago.

Councils carry out a count of traveller caravans in their area twice a year to provide a snapshot of the numbers in permitted and unpermitted spots.

Majority of travellers in Preston are on authorised sites

Majority of travellers in Preston are on authorised sites

It includes those lived in by Gypsies and Travellers, as well as non-traditional groups who live in moveable homes.

Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government data shows that 27 traveller caravans were counted on all sites in Preston in July, up from 14 in July 2009.

Of those, six were on unauthorised locations, meaning they did not have planning permission.

The trend in Preston was the same across England, where around 23,000 caravans were counted in July – an increase of one third in ten years.

But the number on unauthorised sites dropped 17 per cent to 3,082 over the same period.

The Conservative Party has pledged in its election manifesto to “tackle unauthorised traveller camps” by giving the police new powers to arrest and seize the property and vehicles of trespassers on unauthorised encampments.

The document adds: “We will make intentional trespass a criminal offence, and we will also give councils greater powers within the planning system.”

The Traveller Movement, a charity that fights discrimination against the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community, says the national figures show that “only a tiny minority of Travellers reside on unauthorised land”.

“Why is this Government pouring so much money into this issue when it would cost far, far less to provide sites?” asked Yvonne MacNamara, the group’s chief executive.

“While local authorities pump millions annually into removing unauthorised encampments, the other issues facing communities are ignored.

“This includes high rates of anxiety and suicide, poor health outcomes, school exclusions and cuts to Traveller education services.

“In criminalising the most marginalised and vulnerable members of the community, we risk pushing them over the edge. It solves nothing.”

Ms MacNamara added that Gypsies and Travellers were being treated as “political footballs once again”.