I thank the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) for introducing the debate. I also thank the Select Committee on the Environment for its third report. I intend to confine my remarks to that part of the report which deals with gipsy sites and travellers. As the area represented by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West has been designated, I was interested in what he had to say about the problem. He drew attention to the many difficulties that flow from designation. Bradford was designated by the Minister earlier this year.
Many of those who support designation give the public the impression that it is a magic wand solution to all the difficulties caused by travellers. There is therefore considerable public resentment and cynicism when the problems continue after designation. The Government will continue to face difficulties if they grant designation, but the problems remain unsolved.
The report states that 112 authorities have been designated under section 12 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968. They include Doncaster and Bradford. Another 11 applications for designation are being considered by the Department. Bradford continues to face problems. Designation was granted by the Minister days before the local elections, but I should be the last to suggest any connection between his decision and the elections looming on 3 May. His letter provided background information to the granting of designation, stating that the grounds for designation were that it would not be expedient for the then Conservative-controlled Bradford council to make additional permanent provision in Bradford.
Like many other people in Bradford, I thought that that was an extraordinary decision. We have tussled with this problem for many years. We met a Minister from the Department of the Environment two or three years ago, when it was made clear to us that, unless Bradford provided a third permanent site for travellers, designation would not be granted. A third permanent site has not been provided and the two permanent sites in Bradford have not been improved. Nevertheless, the Minister granted designation.
The new Labour administration in Bradford has stated that it will not instruct its officers to implement designation. The new administration wants to monitor the position before taking action. It is anxious to find out whether neighbouring authorities, including Calderdale, Kirklees and Craven, have provided any permanent sites before it decides to implement the designation orders.
The traveller merry-go-round that we have witnessed in Bradford For many years continues. Travellers have resorted—to use the official jargon of the Act—to Bradford for well over a century. Environment Ministers have accepted for many years that two permanent sites offer totally insufficient permanent provision for the caravans of travellers who come regularly to Bradford. They accept that a third site is needed, but it has not been provided. My local newspaper, The Telegraph and Argus, reported recently on the eviction of travellers from unofficial sites and on their moving to other unofficial sites. Council officers are considering applying for yet more eviction orders. A council official is quoted as saying that
it was a problem finding sites that met the needs of the travellers. Shortage of sites for gipsies was a problem because the inner city Mary street site was full.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford. South (Mr. Cryer) is in the Chamber. He and I visited the Mary street site last summer. At the same time we visited the official site at Esholt. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees with me that we were very dissatisfied with the standard of the facilities that are provided there. The Esholt street site is adjacent to a rifle range. We were shown bullet cartridges that had ricocheted over an earth embankment behind the rifle range. The drainage and the washing facilities at the site are totally unsatisfactory. It is no wonder that the travellers are extremely reluctant to use that remote site, which is well away from the shops and schools. The Mary street site was also in a shocking condition. The showers and washing facilities had been vandalised and many of the travellers we met complained about the standard of facilities there.