West Yorkshire deputy mayor Alison Lowe brands lack of space for travellers a 'disgrace', and fears new policing bill will hurt them

West Yorkshire's deputy mayor for policing and crime has branded the lack of legal space for traveller and gypsy communities "a disgrace".

Alison Lowe made the remarks during a debate about the government's controversial new policing bill, which she claimed would punish minority groups, including travellers.

She said councils across the country had failed to provide adequate space for travellers, which she suggested "forced" them to trespass.

Critics of the bill, which has not yet been passed into law, say travellers on unauthorised camps will be criminalised to the extent they could lose their homes.

Ms Lowe has spoken strongly in favour of travellers, saying many of them have "no choice" but to set unauthorised camps because of a shortage of legitimate space.

The Prime Minister and the Home Office have defended the proposals, insisting the overall measures are "sensible" and will ensure offenders are appropriately dealt with.

West Yorkshire's new Labour mayor Tracy Brabin has expressed "great concerns" over the bill, which has also been accused of infringing on the right to protest.

Speaking at a police and crime panel meeting on Friday, Mayor Brabin's deputy, Ms Lowe said: "There are things in the bill I don't have a problem with, but there are clearly other areas that we've talked about which I struggle with.

"These people (travellers) will be traumatised, they'll lose their homes and their trust in the police will be zero.

Travellers have protested against the bill, with critics claiming it will criminalise them and marginalise them further.

"The police don't need more powers in this area.

"If local authorities were able to provide enough sites for traveller communities, you wouldn't need this part of the bill.

"We're short of 1,200 sites for them nationally.

"People have no choice but to trespass, because we - local authorities - can't provide enough sites. It's a disgrace."

A demonstration was held against the proposals, in Parliament Square, in July.

Bradford councillor Richard Dunbar (Labour) told the meeting that he'd spoken to a female traveller about the proposals, and that she'd said the bill, "Makes me feel, as a gypsy, like I'm an animal."

However, Coun Mark Thompson, a Conservative from Kirklees, offered a different perspective.

He said: "Playing devil's advocate, what we need to consider is the residents that have become victims through no fault of their own, and also the local farmers and landowners.

"We can't just look at the minority group, we've got to look at the people it affects (as well), because of the trespassing.

"It just feels like we've talking in very singular terms, rather than the people it affects, when people land on somebody else's property."

In response, Ms Lowe said: "We do need to recognise the rights of all our communities, but we need to be proportionate in our response.

"I don't think it's proportionate that somebody who sits on a farmer's field with their family should lose their home. That's not justice.

"They (travellers) don't want to sit in a farmer's field. They'd rather sit on a legal site, but they've got no choice."

Local Democracy Reporting Service