The term ‘Gyspy/Traveller’ does not constitute a homogenous category, but encapsulates a plethora of differing histories, beliefs and cultures. According to the latest census, 63,000 people in the UK identify themselves as members of this group (House of Commons Briefing Paper, 2017). In January 2017, the total number of Traveller caravans in England was 22,004, an increase of 32% since 2007. Whilst the vast majority were on private (56%) or local authorities and social housing (31%) administered sites, 13% were on unauthorised encampments. Illegal and unauthorised encampments engender ill-feeling and exacerbate tension between settled and traveller communities.
Gypsy and Traveller rights have been steadily stripped away under successive Conservative governments. The Caravan Sites Act 1968, which forced councils to provide sites, was repealed in 1994. So all the sites across the district where Gypsy & Travellers have pitched up over the the last two years is due to the Conservatives repealing so many of their legal rights.
The Housing Act 2004 requires councils to assess need and identify potential land for sites, but they aren’t held to actual provision of sites. When each site is so energetically resisted by residents, it’s hard to allocate the much-needed land.
In 2014 the four councils of East Kent – Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone & Hythe and Thanet Councils, turned to Salford University to undertake the, Gypsies -Travellers & Travelling Showpeople Accommodation Assessment , the need arising for accommodation according to the report was as follows:
But now, the Planning Inspector who undertook an assessment of the Local Plan just last week – 14th – 16th May 2019, made it clear that there needs to be 4 new sites for Gypsy & Travellers in our district, in the next 10 years. No if or buts, just get it done.
As the chart makes clear we should have 5 plots by now with another one added sometime under this administration and that by 2027 we ought to have seven. The likelihood of this happening and the Cllrs and Council fulfilling their legal obligations will be nil we honestly believe. We hope we are wrong. But as history shows, we should have five plots NOW but be we do not not.
So which of our recently elected Cllrs is going to say yes to a new site in their ward? Our councillors will no doubt be quite concerned about their future as councillors and want to ensure that they don’t upset you the voters, as some of them already have their eye on re-election 2023.
Over the last two years there have been a growing number of Gypsy & Travellers pitching up across the district. Nearly all have been reported by the the Express & Herald. Many of the comments have all been negative here is just a sample:
and those who take an entirely different view get hit with so many negative responses
Is it any wonder then why our Council and Cllrs are reluctant to fight the corner for Gypsies & Travellers, especially when so many voters are seemingly intolerant of others, and vociferously vocalise their disdain for Gypsies & Travellers, via their keyboard warrior comments.
Abominations of the body – the various physical deformities.
Blemishes of individual character perceived as weak will, domineering or unnatural passions, treacherous and rigid beliefs and dishonesty, these being inferred from known record of, for example, mental disorder, imprisonment, addiction, alcoholism, homosexuality, unemployment, suicidal attempts, and radical political behaviour.
Tribal stigma of race, nation, and religion – these being stigma that can be transmitted through lineages and equally contaminate all members of a family.
The behaviour by voters through their comments, not just in the local media but on Facebook as well, demonstrates that the stigma attached to Gypsy & Travellers is alive and well in our district, and across the country as a whole.
Our Cllrs and Council – Folkestone & Hythe District Council have legal obligations to follow the Equality Act and Human Rights act regarding Gypsy & Travellers. This is true of all Councils. If we are to be an inclusive community then we must fulfil them. However, it doesn’t just stop there. We the voters, the residents of this district must reach out and bridge this divide and allow those plots to be sited across the district, otherwise face potential legal punishment for our failure to reconcile the local plan.
Can we do it? Yes we can. Will we do it? Only time will tell.
The Shepwayvox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful