A Judicial Review submission lodged against Thanet council on behalf of Pavee traveller families at Ramsgate Port will be heard on April 6.
The review application was submitted at the end of last year on grounds of human rights breaches regarding the conditions and treatment of the families who have been living at the Port since the end of last May.
Four eviction attempts have been made by Thanet council but have not been successful.
Thanet District Council originally attended Magistrates’ Court on May 27 last year seeking an order for removal of the group from Palm Bay. This was unsuccessful on welfare grounds and the council was told by the court to make available an alternative site. 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.
Notice was later served on some of the Pavee families at the site 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 on without authorisation although Gypsy and Traveller Coalition representatives said they were 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 and then halted again due to the Judicial Review application.
The review hearing will take place at the High Court in London before Mrs Justice Laing on April 6.
The Pavee families, supported by members of Ramsgate town, district and county councils and by the Gypsy and Traveller Coalition, aim to show that Thanet council has failed to discharge its duty of care or to treat the families in line with the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act.
Over the past 10 months the families say bins and portable loos have been left unemptied for weeks at a time, electric and water supplies have been cut off, the site is exposed to the elements and several adults and children have become very ill with a two year old and a 16 year old recently taken into hospital with gastric infections.
Supporting councillors, including Karen Constantine, Becky Wing, Raushan Ara, Mike Garner and Anne-Marie Nixey, say there are fears a large scale infection could break out due to poor sanitation with just five toilets and two showers for the 70 people based there.
Families also suffered during Storm Eunice in February with metal fencing being brought down by the gale force winds and many people opting to shelter in their cars for safety rather than their caravans.
Cllr Constantine said: “Over the past 10 months we have been politely and persistently requesting Thanet council to meet with us to discuss how to meet the needs of the travellers staying on the port. They have been given a right to stay on the site, but the council has so far failed to discharge its duty of care, or to treat them in line with the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act. Instead TDC have been hell-bent on seeking to evict them. They have now failed to do that four times.
“The constant cycle of being evicted and forced to move on is simply damaging to their health and well-being. Now the travellers have settled on the Port, they are getting some health treatment and some children are now able to attend school.
“Our lawyer Micheal Imperato is at the High Court before Mrs Justice Laing, a senior High Court Judge, on the morning of April 6. We are also very pleased to be represented by Garden Court Chambers who have an impressive history of winning cases and overturning great injustices.
“Garden Court Chambers is a number one ranked barristers’ chambers committed to fighting injustice, defending human rights and upholding the rule of law. Our Barrister is Tim Baldwin who has a formidable knowledge of the law. Having spoken with Tim about the dreadful situation at the port I know he will do his very best.
“We will not stop fighting to ensure these Travellers rights are met. Thanet council should be cognisant of meeting their needs but also mitigating the need to spend public money defending expensive court cases. That’s not what any of us want. But with just 5 toilets and 2 showers for 70 people, some of whom are very poorly, what choice do we have?
“This court case could have avoidable.”
A case is also being prepared against Kent County Council, said Cllr Constantine.
She added: “KCC is fully aware of the difficulties that continual poor access to health has resulted in. We do have some very sick and unwell people on this site and KCC, TDC, and Public Health really need to address these matters as a matter of urgency. So far they have failed.
“Other organisations involved in providing support and services to this group, such as the Grange surgery and a local school have done exceptionally well in meeting needs.”
In December Thanet council said facilities had been provided and officers had found no evidence of acute health needs.
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “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.
“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.”
Bid for government funding
A ‘call for sites’ for the updated Local Plan has received no response in terms of putting forward land for Gypsy and Traveller accommodation.
However, Thanet council is due to apply to a £10 million government fund announced last month to help councils provide improved transit sites and stopping places as well as permanent sites.
The aim is to give traveller families easier access to local services including healthcare, education, and employment as well as reducing the high costs of tackling unauthorised encampments.
In a council meeting last Thursday (March 31) authority leader Cllr Ash Ashbee, responding to a question from Cllr Aram Rawf, said a decision had been made to apply to the fund, adding: “I am very hopeful that a bid will be submitted by the 13th June deadline and if it is successful, which I very much hope it is, it will certainly assist us in providing a solution for this matter on a long-term, sustainable future.”
Cllr Ashbee said it was a “priority” for her to find a solution to the district’s lack of transit and permanent Gypsy and Traveller sites.
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.”