A shortlist of three proposed temporary “tolerated pitches” for Travellers and Gypsies in Thanet has been ditched – with councillors agreeing there should be further work on the issue and extensive public consultation.
Members of Thanet council’s scrutiny committee said suggestions that pitches could be created at the former education space at Tivoli Brooks, Margate; Ramsgate Port car park and Potten Street car park in St Nicholas-at-Wade should not be put forward to Cabinet members for consideration.
Residents from St Nicholas-at-Wade and Ramsgate and members of the Salmestone Ward Residents Association attended the meeting last night (November 19) due to concerns over the named sites.
In a passionate speech one St Nicholas resident said: “It is a shame the review party did not consult residents of Potten Street or other sites. They might well have taken in that Potten Street is isolated and remote, there are no local police, it is vulnerable to criminal activity and targeted by dogging and unsavoury activities.”
The resident also said the car park, which is close to the busy A299, was unsuitable and unsafe. She added: “Before considering the comfort of those two (Traveller) families consider the concerns of council residents. The council needs to look harder and identify sites further from its law abiding, tax paying citizens.”
The aim was to use the pitches on a rotation basis to alleviate the issue of unauthorised camps on the isle. Thanet currently does not have an authorised Traveller site, with the nearest being in Canterbury and Dover.
Unauthorised encampments at sites including Dane Valley, Marina Esplanade, Government Acre and the car park by Dreamland have risen sharply from two in 2013 to 55 last year and 53 so far this year.
A report to councillors said since 2018, numerous incursions in Thanet have been as a result of two family groups. These families comprising of individually small groups (6-8 caravans), are a draw to other more transient groups meaning that incursions vary from 5-6 vehicles to in excess of 20. This group is linked to the 50+ incursions within the district in 2018 and most of the incursions in 2019.
Councillors were told by Penny Button, head of Thanet council’s safer neighbourhoods department: “Due to a rise in unauthorised encampments there has been identified in the Local Plan a cultural need for seven permanent and five transient pitches. Thanet is quite unique in having no authority or privately run sites.”
According to a report to councillors some 70 locations across Thanet have been assessed as vulnerable to vehicle based unauthorised encampments.
Costs and legal powers
Questions were raised by Cllr Stuart Piper over the costs incurred by Thanet due to unauthorised encampments, particularly in clean ups and court fees, which he said had been the original remit of the Traveller review group.
He said: “I estimate we have spent tens of thousands of pounds in clearing up over the last few years.
“Some Travellers may think they have found an easy victim in Thanet and are exploiting that.”
Cllr Piper said more attention should be paid to the powers that Thanet council could use to deal with illegal activity.
Margate Central councillor Rob Yates raised concerns over the Tivoli site saying it was too close to Dreamland and the seafront and would be expensive to create a suitable area.
The plot is also the subject of a proposal by the Salmestone Ward Residents Association for the creation of a community centre.
Cllr Lynda Piper questioned the inclusion of Ramsgate Port, saying: “Ramsgate Port is undergoing a feasibility study. If a business entrepreneur wanted to use the port they would not be happy to know there was a Travellers’ site there.”
She added that, as part of the review group, it had been “very very difficult to make decisions.”
Ramsgate councillor Peter Campbell proposed a recommendation to Cabinet members that further work on the feasibility and cost of temporary tolerated sites be examined but with extensive public consultation and with no suggested sites put forward.
The committee approved the proposal. A report will now go to council Cabinet members for discussion. The next Cabinet meeting is on December 16.
Friends, Families and Travellers charity
The Friends, Families and Travellers charity say local authorities need to provide adequate land for travellers to stop as many families are forced to pull up in public spaces and on private land. This leaves many with interrupted access to basic water and sanitation, education and healthcare.
.An FFT spokesman previously told The Isle of Thanet News that sites should be made available, saying: “We would recommend that the district council and local authority work with the Traveller community in the area to identify land that would be suitable for building new sites to accommodate these residents.”
Joseph P Jones, of the Gypsy Council, said the council was using the review as a ‘get out key’ instead of actively creating a solution.
He said: “Since 1968, (Thanet councils have) used the ‘actively looking for sites’ as a get out key, it’s the old chestnut of ‘we are trying.’ Thanet has had no desire to provide over five decades. On their own admittance, they need to provide 12 pitches, but I doubt that will (happen) over the next ten years or so.
“Who in the Gypsy and Traveller community have they consulted with? They seem to rebuke any offers from organisations to make representation to the scrutiny committee. This is why the Gypsy Council has made its own decision to present to the council, our proposed site at the Truck Stop at Minster. It’s a brown field site, a prime development plot. Until TDC decides to bring all relevant parties to the table within the scrutiny committee, nothing will be decided.”
The proposal for Minster is for the site to accommodate between nine and 15 vans, through three permanent and seven transient pitches, with associated facilities. The arrangement will be to take a 99 year lease on the land.