The search for where to put a new traveller site in Brighton and Hove is set to begin early next year after the government told the city council it needs to provide 19 new pitches by 2030.
Travellers in Wild Park in August following the closure of the Horsdean site
Brighton and Hove City Council is [requesting] South Downs National Park Authority to begin to identify possible sites for another 32 pitches, 19 within the urban boundary.
The last search for a suitable site for new pitches lasted years, with about 50 possible sites assessed. Horsdean was eventually chosen, despite opposition to building in the South Downs National Park and fears of possible water contamination.
It’s likely that some of the sites within the city previously dismissed, such as Hangleton Bottom and Sheepcote, will now be reassessed.
Meanwhile, the number of unauthorised traveller camps on public space is expected to rise following the closure of Horsdean so it can be extended to build 12 new permanent pitches to add to the existing 21 transit pitches.
A traveller strategy update, to be discussed at Tuesday 24th November’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee says while capacity was reduced at Horsdean last year for drainage investigations, the number of unauthorised camps rose, from 52 in 2013/14 to 89 in 2014/15. The report says the rise was also due to travellers being moved on 17.5% more quickly in 2014/15 compared to the previous year.
The closure of Horsdean not only means the travellers staying there were moved out, but also that police are not able to use one of the powers available to them to move on camps quickly, which requires an official site within the local authority boundaries to be available. The site is due to reopen next summer.
Committee chair Gill Mitchell said: “Whilst it is difficult with the closure of our transit site, the opening of the new site in 2016 will means that Brighton and Hove has taken a major step in increasing its pitch capacity to help tackle unauthorised encampments and meeting our duty of care.
“We remain committed to taking a firm and fair approach that will not only reduce the inequalities experienced by travellers but will also support community cohesion.”
The report notes that since 2012, the average stay of an unauthorised encampment has dropped from 20 days to eight. It also details defences improved at city parks, while saying that lack of money and the park’s topography limits what can be done to proactively prevent camps.
It says: “Defences have been improved on the car parks at Stanmer but this has largely just displaced the travellers onto the grass areas within the park but has kept the car parks clearer for the public to use.
“A new type of width restrictor at Wild Park has recently been installed which will restrict access by larger vehicles when the café is not open.
“Mobile cameras have not been installed but are still being considered. The difficulty has been that cameras that will provide evidential standard images can not be run from batteries. It would therefore require significant investment to install and maintain cameras and in a time of limited budgets the potential effectiveness needs to be considered carefully. ”
The council in conjunction with the police are looking at the possibility of using public service protection orders (PSPOs) to protect the most sensitive parks.
It has also been in liaison with the Environment Agency and Southern Water to enhance our sensitive site profiles and include environmental risks and risks to water supply so that this can be taken into account when assessing the potential impact of a UAE.
Police have reviewed and amended their PIER (Prevention, Intelligence, Enforcement and Reassurance) plan and are providing three dedicated Gypsy Traveller Liaison Officers.
As well as site availability and community cohesion, the report also focuses on traveller health, safety and wellbeing and education outcomes.
The new Traveller Education Unit reports an improvement in school attendance from Traveller children. All primary school age children residing on the transit site enrolled in school and 140 pre-school children have accessed the Playbus.
However, there was poor take-up from secondary aged children and while the transit site is closed, it has been difficult to engage traveller children with education opportunities whilst they are on unauthorised encampments.