A senior figure at a London Traveller charity has appealed to local politicians to tone down the rhetoric after criticism of plans to extend a Gypsy and Traveller site in Dagenham.

Ilinca Diaconescu, policy and campaigns coordinator for London Gypsies and Travellers, spoke out following Barking and Dagenham Council’s decision to approve the extension of a Gypsy and Traveller site in Eastbrookend Country Park at a cabinet meeting on May 23.

Ms Diaconescu, whose group is a registered charity, said: “We urge politicians to understand the negative impacts of their opposition to these plans in the context of the housing crisis facing Gypsy and Traveller Londoners, and the racism and prejudice that the communities continue to face to this day.”

Earlier Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham, joined Ben Suter, deputy chairman for Dagenham and Rainham Conservatives, in saying the extension of the Traveller site at the park presented a threat to the green belt and ignored the wishes of local people.

Mr Suter went on to claim that the extension would destroy the habitats of protected species, without specifying which animals he was referring to.

Ms Diaconescu said that when politicians opposed the delivery of homes for Gypsy and Traveller families, they reinforced housing inequalities these communities face and send a public message that they are not welcome anywhere.

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An expert group from Europe’s leading human rights body, the Council of Europe, found on May 25 "troublingly persistent" levels of discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Travellers in the UK.

During the meeting, Cllr Cameron Geddes, cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, said that finding traveller pitches has proven difficult for the council so Eastbrookend was deemed the best option.

Council leader Darren Rodwell added: “I think we should be reassuring residents that we’re not going to bulldoze over our country park or any green space.

“This is about providing homes for our community.”

Very few local authorities are meeting the planning requirements to find suitable locations for Gypsies and Travellers, Ms Diaconescu claimed.

“There are ways to ensure the development of the site extension is done in a low impact way, is sustainable and meets other planning criteria in its location, learning from best practice in other places, and working closely with Gypsy and Traveller residents."