Travellers update

It’s been a torrid few weeks and months when we’ve seen Travellers come and go from the park on several occasions. You may have seen our letter in the Argus which was in answer to one from Caroline Lucas:

The Friends of Preston Park was glad to hear that Caroline Lucas is aware of park-goers’ anger and frustration at the continued incursion of Travellers into our park (letters, 16 June). We agree that there needs to be a change in the law in central government for other authorities to shoulder responsibility for providing sites. And of course we agree that this terrible situation should not be used as a ‘political football’.

However we do not agree that providing more permanent places in our city for Travellers will solve the problem. We have heard that many Travellers prefer to pitch up in our park for free rather than use dedicated sites for which a fee is payable – and the way things are, surely there will never be enough places for the amount of Travellers we have in our parks.

We feel the best answer is, long-term: for Caroline Lucas to continue to lobby the government to a) make other authorities provide sites for Travellers as she says, but also b) give powers to the police to evict immediately without recourse to the courts; and short term: to drastically speed up the current eviction process, the current time of about a week is not good enough.

Our members and the whole park community hold our local politicians and police responsible for the implementation and enforcement of effective laws to prevent the abuse of our community space. This situation of being muscled out of our own park is totally unacceptable.

We have now heard that the council has the go-ahead to construct a permanent Traveller’s site. This will be done pretty speedily apparently as funds are already in place for this. The Head of Tenancy Services, Housing told us:

‘We do believe that providing some permanent pitches is likely to have a significant impact in reducing Unauthorised Encampments in the city. We will be progressing this as soon as possible.’

We’re really pleased that this new site might mitigate the problem, but whether it will solve the problem remains to be seen . . .

We have just had this communication from Councilor Leo Littman:

As you may have heard, Eric Pickles has now decided not to get in the way of the building of a permanent Traveller site in Brighton & Hove. Although, as the press release below points out, this will not by itself provide a complete solution to the problem of unauthorised encampments, it should help a great deal by providing an authorised place for travellers to camp and, when not full, giving the Police additional scope in dealing with any unauthorised encampments.

Press Release

Plans for a permanent Traveller site which have been approved by the South Downs National Park Authority will now not be called in by the Secretary of State.

Plans for the site, adjacent to the recently re-opened traveller transit site at Horsdean, have been drawn up by Brighton & Hove City Council and funded by a government grant.

The plans show 12 new permanent pitches alongside 21 retained transit pitches. Each permanent pitch will consist of space for a static caravan and other vehicles, plus a kitchen, bathroom and dayroom in an amenity block.

The plans will also see the Traveller Liaison Team move to a management building on site, to ensure closer and better working with the community and to reduce management costs. Councillor Pete West, chair of Brighton & Hove City Council’s environment, transport and sustainability committee, said:

“I am relieved the Secretary of State has stopped thinking about calling this in, so we can now get on with building these much needed additional traveller pitches. The impact unauthorised encampments on the city’s open spaces has on local communities cannot be underestimated coupled with the expense of eviction. The permanent site will help ease this issue and give greater stability for travelling families and strengthen existing links with the local community that already exist with the transit site. By adding pitch capacity it will also reduce the likelihood of unauthorised encampments.”

The site will be aimed at Travellers with a local link, many who already regularly occupy spaces on the transit site. This should increase the council’s capacity to deal with unauthorised encampments, although the permanent Traveller site will not provide a complete solution. Tenants will have to sign a secure tenancy that will, like all social housing, ensure that any anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated.