A bid for a Judicial Review hearing by Pavee Traveller families at Ramsgate Port against Thanet council has been denied.
The review application was submitted at the end of last year on allegations 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 magistrates’ court decision was made due to poor health of some members of the group, including a pregnant woman and a child under care of Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The Pavee families, supported by members of Ramsgate town, district and county councils and by the Gypsy and Traveller Coalition, aimed 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.
Notice was served on some of the Pavee families at the site which Thanet council said 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,
High Court ruling
The High Court, Queen’s Bench Division did not agree with the grounds put forward by the Pavee representative and has refused the review.
In the judgement deputy high court judge Anthony Elleray QC, it says that notice served in November was” on the basis that the temporary licence period was at an end. Further sadly the pregnant mother’s child had not survived birth. Further the other mother’s child had completed treatment in hospital. In those circumstances I do not consider that making the November direction was either unlawful or irrational.”
The judgement found that the November eviction notice had been sufficiently served and adequate assessments had been made.
The ruling means Thanet council may once more proceed with the eviction of the families from Ramsgate Port although the authority says “no further action will take place at this time” due to the appeal being lodged.
Back on the road
Paul James, of The Gypsy and Traveller Coalition, said the ruling was disappointing and an appeal has been lodged.
He said: “The residents and supporters of the temporary site on Ramsgate Port are disappointed the ruling by the judge completely ignored the issuing of what we say is an unauthorised notice to people who were authorised to be there.
“That issue is now awaiting appeal as it clearly highlights an anomaly in the judgement.
“Since the family group has been on the port, for 14 months, there have not been any unauthorised encampments in the Thanet area, thereby saving the council costs to evict any groups.
“If this family group are put back onto the road there will inevitably be unauthorised encampments again in Thanet leading to more court cases and expenditure.
“The council has a legal obligation to provide a site for this family group as they do to provide council housing for other local residents and there is funding available from central government for TDC to do just that.
“The Travellers Coalition and councillors have again been looking for a meeting with the relevant people in TDC to resolve the issue now there have been major changes at the top.
“The previous CEO seemed reluctant to meet or allow any of her staff in the relevant positions to meet and look to resolve the situation, thereby adding extra costs by way of seven court attendances, including one at the high court, in which solicitors and barristers were retained by TDC to look to move people back onto the road to then start the same court proceedings every 3-4 weeks! An endless circle costing thousands of pounds which could be better used all while being legally obliged to provide a site for the residents.
“Thanet deserves better management of this issue and hopefully with a regime change that will now take place.”
’40 families to register as homeless’
County Councillor Karen Constantine, who is among the group that has been assisting the families, said the ruling meant some 40 people would now have to register with Thanet council as homeless.
She said: “ We are very dissatisfied that the Judicial Review didn’t find in favour of the Travellers currently living on the Port of Ramsgate. We have of course, lodged an appeal.
“Meanwhile, residents and councillors are extremely worried about the prospect of the Travellers being evicted in the near future.
“In many ways having the Travellers on the Port has been very successful. There were some initial concerns expressed, but this has settled down. The Travellers tell me that they love being able to be more settled – whilst maintaining their culture. While settled on the Port most people have taken the opportunity to register with local GPs and many of the children are either going to school or planning to start in September.
“As a councillor I am extremely worried about how the children and adults will cope if evicted, particularly in respect of managing their health conditions if they are moved on again. Each family has multiple, complex, and severe health issues to deal with. “Without a base, I don’t even know how they will receive notifications for appointments. I’m also really keen to see the children go to school, but also join in some local activities, such as football and boxing with other children.
“I was on the site yesterday and it’s extremely disappointing to see three families still without access to a toilet, shower or running water. Last week the portable loos were left unemptied and uncleaned. I have raised these issues with KCC and Public Health several times. They need to respond with a clear and cogent plan. I hope the incoming TDC Chief Executive will immediately meet with us to begin to resolve these matters.
“In the meantime in excess of 40 residents will now be forced to register as homeless with TDC. This will mean TDC will have to find an area of land suitable for them to stay on.
“Ultimately I would like to host a round table with KCC, TDC, and Public Health to work out what would be a reasonable solution to meet the Travellers needs. This could be done quickly and would be more effective, and cheaper than resorting to court action.”
Thanet council did not wish to comment at this time.
Bid for government funding
A ‘call for sites’ for the updated Local Plan received no response in terms of putting forward land for Gypsy and Traveller accommodation.
However, earlier this year Thanet council said it would apply to a £10 million government fund 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 on March 31 authority leader Cllr Ash Ashbee said the decision had been made to apply to the fund, which had a June 13 deadline.
Thanet council says: “We are actively seeking suitable sites for Gypsy and Traveller families within the district and have submitted a bid for funding to the government’s Gypsy and Traveller Site Fund.” Awards from the fund have not yet been announced.