A court hearing will take place this Wednesday (December 8) after eviction notices were issued for every person currently staying at the temporary Traveller stopping site on Ramsgate Port.
At least 40 adults and 17 children are affected.
Notice had already been served on some of the Pavee families at the port which has been in use as an agreed stopping point since the end of May. Thanet council said this was due to a ‘new group’ moving onto the site without authorisation although Gypsy and Traveller Coalition representatives said they are all part of the same family and added that some notices were served two days after the death of a two-day old baby amongst the group,
An eviction hearing at Margate Magistrates’ Court on October 1 was adjourned until November 9. This was again adjourned for the bench to review points of law raised by representatives of the family on the Port until the hearing this week.
Thanet District Council originally attended Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, May 27 seeking an order for removal of the group from Palm Bay. This was unsuccessful on welfare grounds and the council was required to identify an alternative site in order to comply with the court. Ramsgate Port was identified as being able to provide facilities whilst being outside of a residential area.
The court decision was made due to poor health of some members of the group, including a baby and a child.
In June the mother of a baby girl who has been very poorly after the discovery of a lump in her neck urged Thanet council to provide more facilities at the site as she was unable to care for her little one properly without electricity to keep medicines cool. This baby is still under the care of Great Ormond Street Hospital and QEQM.
Numerous concerns have been raised about the facilities at the site during the past 6 months, including a call for additional standpipes, more toilets (separate male and female due to cultural etiquette) showers, more bins and also a move further back on the site.
The requests were backed by Ramsgate county councillor Karen Constantine, district councillors Becky Wing, Tricia Austin, Mike Garner and Raushan Ara and Ramsgate Town Council’s Anne-Marie Nixey as well as Father McNally who looks after the community.
The Gypsy and Traveller Coalition says conditions have not improved, that health services are being used for serious needs and that bins and the toilet facilities are now not being emptied.
A spokesperson said: “The magistrate court on May 27 refused to grant the council’s application to move the family and suggested instead the council find a place for the family to stop because of the diabolical health issues they were enduring.
“Many of the family have long covid and some are still suffering from the effects of double pneumonia and other serious illnesses which are now being treated by an NHS team.
“The council heeded the magistrates and moved the family onto Port Ramsgate but are now disputing who family members are, in spite of dealing with this family and its members for the last 8 years.
“A council officer’s statement to the court seemingly and bizarrely suggests family members (brothers, sisters, grandparents and even parents) cannot be considered close family members.
“Before the court ruling on May 27 the council’s way of dealing with the people on the Port was by constantly moving them from one unauthorised camp to another around Thanet. All at a cost to the tax payers of court fees and barristers. This trend is to seemingly continue.
“There have been no incursions onto public or private land in Thanet since the family have been on Port Ramsgate.
“The people on the port are statutorily considered in law as homeless and therefore the council have an obligation to accommodate the family appropriately as they do any homeless family.
“To date the council have only carried out this legal obligation by way of the court refusing to move them from a previous encampment.
“The council has refused to empty the bins on the site alleging human waste has been deposited in them. In theory they are correct: There are young children on the site in nappies. Mothers are depositing nappies in the bins, very much like every mother in Thanet will deposit nappies into the bin.
“The site has Portaloos which the council are now, bizarrely, implying have been emptied into the bins. The emptying of these Portaloos, which are heavy moulded one-piece plastic blocks, is carried out by a specialised vacuuming machines.
“It would be virtually impossible to pick them up and somehow empty them into the bins.
“We believe this refusal to empty bins before a court date to determine the eviction case is an attempt by the enforcement team to cause the site to becoming littered and untidy and this to then be used in the court as another reason for removal from the site.”
Thanet council says facilities have been provided and officers have found no evidence of acute health needs.
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “A court hearing for an Order of Removal relating to the encampment at the Port of Ramsgate is scheduled for Wednesday 8 December. This hearing follows a previous hearing on Tuesday 9 November which was adjourned.
“The latest court hearing is for the eviction of all members of the group residing at the Port of Ramsgate site. The council has provided adequate facilities for two authorised families as some members had complex welfare needs. Facilities include multiple toilets, shower facilities as well as a number of rubbish bins.
“On 22 October our officers carried out another series of welfare checks with the group and found no evidence of any acute medical needs. In addition, no subsequent letters have been provided to the council which detail any medical reasons why the group should continue to stay at the site. The council is therefore under no obligation to provide facilities in these circumstances, especially as they come at a significant cost to the council.
“As such, a section 77 direction to leave notice was served on the group. Options for alternative accommodation have been discussed with members of the group, including their right to approach our housing options team for support.
“The Port of Ramsgate is not a suitable location for long term occupation of traveller encampments. The council is however continuing to explore various options as part of the local plan process to find a solution for traveller encampments coming to Thanet. These include the possibility of a permanent site where travellers could stop temporarily for short periods of time, and also family-sized plots which would allow smaller groups of caravans to stay on a longer term basis. This is an ongoing and complex process which will also require consultation.”
However, a ‘call for sites’ earlier this year received no response in terms of Gypsy and Traveller accommodation.
County Councillor Karen Constantine says welfare checks could not have been efficient as there are still dire health needs amongst the group, including the baby still under Great Ormond Street and QEQM hospitals, which TDC has been notified about.
She added: “There is very poor health that we are concerned about and I believe some of the families will not survive on the road. Also some of these kids are going to school, TDC needs to get a grip on this and get a site.
“There are overflowing bins, the toilets need fixing, it is appalling. The way this is being done also creates additional, unnecessary costs and is another expense with TDC wasting money.”
Cllr Constantine has also called for the county council to carry out a focused inquiry on the health of Travellers, which has been accepted.
Judicial Review bid
The Gypsy and Traveller Coalition says a Judicial Review bid is being lodged with the High Court on the grounds of breach of human rights.
They said: “There is now in place a barrister for the family who is instructed to approach the High Court in regards to a judicial review being lodged on the handling of the family over 8 years by the Thanet council officers. Again this is going to cost the tax payers many thousands of pounds.
“There have been numerous attempts by ward councillors and a Kent County councillor to bring the council chief executive around the table, with other relevant parties, to resolve this matter and save taxpayers money. These entreaties have to date being ignored.
“This family has been orbiting Thanet on and off for the last 100 years. They have a right to be here and to be considered as human beings by Thanet council officers.”
The Thanet council spokesperson said: “Legal representatives of some of the travellers have contacted the council about a possible judicial review but no claim has been issued. The council is considering its response.”
There are 17 authorised Gypsy and Traveller sites in Kent – 11 district council ones and six run by the county council – but all are full with long waiting lists.
In December 2019 approval was given for work to assess Potten Street in St Nicholas-at-Wade, Tivoli Brook in Margate and Ramsgate Port for use as temporary tolerated stopping sites in Thanet.
Both Ramsgate Port and Tivoli Brook were removed from the plans in July 2020. The proposal for Ramsgate Port was scrapped because it was “undergoing a feasibility study and the proposed area is in use for the storage of cars and is returning a revenue, it is also an industrialised area and not suited to families and young children.”
Thanet does not yet have an authorised site for Gypsy and Traveller use.