Finding a site for the Travelling community: your questions answered
Why is the Council doing this?
We have a duty to consider the housing needs of all our residents. The Travelling community is part of our residential population and we have been looking into their housing needs, just as we do for others. We found that over the next 15 years, at least six pitches would be required in order to meet their particular housing needs.
Are there people from the Gypsy and Traveller community already living in the borough?
Yes, there are. Many live in traditional (bricks and mortar) housing.
Then why is the Council looking to provide sites for the community?
Gypsies and Travellers are recognised as an ethnic group and their rights are protected under the Equalities Act (2010). They should be able to enjoy living independently just like other residents, and according to their cultural heritage. In assessing their housing needs we found some of them would prefer to live in a mobile home on a permanent site, rather than traditional housing.
What is a site?
A residential site is managed and has a number of amenities. This includes water supply, electricity, individual toilets and utility rooms. It is hoped that there would also be an area of communal play/open meeting space on the site. All tenants will pay rent and council tax.
What is a pitch?
A pitch is an area of land big enough for a household, providing space for one static caravan, one touring caravan and one car. Pitches are also expected to include a single-storey amenity building and some landscaping/open space.
How many people from the Gypsy and Traveller community does the Council need to provide a site for?
In the Lewisham Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment Update (August 2016), we identified that at least six pitches will be needed in the borough up to 2031.
How did the Council decide that land at Pool Court is the best possible site?
We carried out a thorough search of all council-owned land and buildings over 2,400 square metres in size and applied 10 approved criteria when considering each site. We also considered some adjacent land in other ownerships that may be necessary to develop council land/ buildings. Through this process, we eliminated possible sites until we were left with two potential sites:
land at Pool Court, SE6
New Cross Social Club and adjoining land in Hornshay Street, SE15.
We then carried out consultation on these two potential sites (September/October 2016) and did various further studies before concluding that land at Pool Court is the best possible site.
What factors has the Council considered?
The factors we have considered include:
the ability to supply essential services
access to schools and health facilities
Does the Council own all the land?
We own the western part of the site. The eastern part of the site, currently occupied by a scaffolding business, is owned by Network Rail. We are in discussion with Network Rail about buying this land.
What would happen to the existing scaffolding business?
The business would need to move. We are talking with them about how we could help them relocate, and we will give them as much notice and assistance as possible.
Is the Council consulting with the Gypsy and Traveller community?
Yes. It is important that the community have their say on where they would prefer the site to be situated.
When will we know exactly what is going to be built?
The detailed design and layout of the site will be developed as part of any future planning application. The proposed design guidelines and planning application requirements will ensure the right outcomes are achieved when the time comes to assess the planning application.
The Travelling community
Who are Gypsies and Travellers?
Gypsies and Travellers are not a uniform homogeneous community, but a group of communities which share some features and have their own histories and traditions.
There are several main Gypsy and Traveller communities:
Gypsies are Romany ethnic groups who have lived in Britain for at least 500 years. Their ancestors migrated from India from the 10th century and then mixed with Europeans and other groups. 'Roma' is used to described European Romany speaking groups who have come to England from eastern and central Europe. It is also sometimes used to refer more generally to Gypsies and Travellers.
Irish Travellers are a nomadic group with a distinct way of life and have been part of Irish and British societies for centuries.
(New) Travellers are people of settled backgrounds who adopted a travelling lifestyle in the more recent past, although some are now in their third or fourth generation of travelling. The neutral term 'Traveller' is preferred.
What is Gypsy/Traveller culture?
Like other minority ethnic groups, Gypsies and Travellers have their own languages, traditions and customs that guide their way of life. These are passed down through the generations but are also adapted to new conditions. Cultural values are very strong, though like other groups, each family and individual may have their own special ways of putting them into practice.
The family is extremely important to Gypsies and Travellers and a source of great pride. Extended families support and look after one another. Children are central to the lives of Gypsy and Traveller families. Older members of the community are also respected and cared for within the family.
The tradition of nomadism or travelling is significant and allows Gypsies and Travellers to travel to take up work opportunities, and to meet with family on special occasions such as christenings, weddings and funerals.
Religion is of great importance to many Gypsies and Travellers, in terms of their daily lives and through rituals and gatherings. Irish Travellers are often devout Roman Catholics and their children often attend Catholic schools.
What type of jobs do Gypsies and Travellers do?
Similar to the settled community, Gypsies and Travellers work in a variety of occupations. Traditional forms of work include seasonal agricultural labour, peddling, basket making and horse dealing.
Working practices have now evolved in response to the needs of modern society to include landscaping, gardening, laying tarmac, motor trading, scrap metal dealing and tree felling.
It is also common for Gypsies and Travellers to be employed as teachers, academics and public-sector workers, as well as in the entertainment industry.
Do all Gypsies and Travellers live in caravans?
No, some members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities live in housing. Not all individuals who identify as being Gypsy/Traveller are actively travelling and this may be due to health problems, need for stability and accessing services such as education.
For some Gypsies and Travellers, housing can be a satisfactory solution either for a period of time or more permanently. It's important that each individual and family can decide what meets their needs and their culture continues to be recognised.
Do all Gypsies and Travellers have a house?
No. For many, their sole accommodation is a caravan. Some Gypsies and Travellers live in houses and flats over the winter months and travel with their caravans outside the winter season.
Some Gypsies and Travellers accept a house as they may have nowhere else safe and stable to raise children, or for health reasons. However, this may prove a difficult and stressful experience and they can feel isolated from their extended family, trapped and enclosed.
Are there may people from the Gypsy and Traveller community already living in the borough?
Yes. According to the 2011 Census, there are 93 Gypsy and Traveller families living in houses or flats in the borough.
It is difficult to give an exact figure as some members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities prefer not to self-identify. A report by the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain estimates that the 2011 Census underestimates the Gypsy and Traveller population by more than half.
What is the difference between sites and encampments?
Sites are authorised places for travellers to live which may be owned and managed by the Council or privately owned and managed, whereas encampments are usually unauthorised and may be subject to enforcement action.