Backing Brighton and Hove council’s proposals to expand the travellers’ site at Horsdean

If, as I do, you live in Patcham on the northern fringes of Brighton, you could be forgiven for believing that the most important issue facing our city is the Council’s planning application to provide twelve permanent pitches at the current travellers’ site at Horsdean, on the edge of the South Downs national park.  The site currently contains 21 temporary pitches where travellers can currently stay for up to three months; the council has now submitted a proposal to the South Downs National Park Authority for the extension.

Travellers remain an emotive issue in our part of the city, with frequent illegal incursions into parks and other public open spaces.  As well as denying amenities to local people, these incursions result in costs to the council.  The only way to ensure that the needs both of the local housed populations and travellers is met is, quite obviously, to make properly-managed sites available.  For a calm, rational explanation of why this is the case I don’t think I could do any better than this:

A single fixed site would reduce the number of unauthorised travellers’ encampments around the city.

The proposals are expected to substantially cut the waste and disruption caused by unauthorised camps and therefore reduce the cost to the council taxpayer.

They will also ensure the council fulfils its commitment to serving all sections of the community and meets the legal requirements handed down by the Government.

At the moment there is one authorised gypsy and traveller site in the city – at Horsdean.

This is a transit site which has 23 pitches providing temporary accommodation for up to 12 weeks.

The Horsdean site is provided to meet the needs of travellers who wish to visit the area and who would otherwise set up an unauthorised encampment.

This site does not meet the needs of gypsies and travellers who wish to live on a permanent site.

A new permanent site will help to meet the demand for pitches from gypsies and travellers with local connections who live permanently in the area but move from one unofficial site to another.

It will also put us in a stronger position to move on unauthorised camps.

Provision of more pitches in other areas of the South East will also reduce the number of gypsies and travellers moving around the region.

While some travellers want to retain a nomadic lifestyle, an increasing number wish to have a permanent base so their children can receive regular schooling and they can have access to health services like the rest of the community.

Most don’t want to be illegally occupying land and regularly facing the prospect of being moved on.

As I have already made clear, travellers living on a permanent site would pay rent and council tax like any other resident.

There are grants available from the Government which currently meet the full cost of providing any new permanent site in the city, with no cost to the council.

The rent charged would cover the maintenance and upkeep of the site.

A site manager would directly oversee and manage the site and refuse and recycling collections from the site would be made by the council’s Cityclean service.

The council would not hesitate to take strict enforcement action against any residents breaching site regulations as it would with anyone in a similar position.

Providing permanent spaces would cut down the number of unauthorised encampments – and reduce the cost to local council taxpayers of moving these on and then clearing up.

Experience in other areas shows the cost of enforcement and clearing up after unauthorised sites falls significantly where permanent pitches have been provided.

In Bristol, for example, these costs fell from £200,000 a year to under £5,000.

It should also be noted that where permanent sites are provided in other parts of the country, there is very little evidence of antisocial or illegal activities associated with them.

I thought that worth quoting at length because those are the words of Cllr Geoffrey Theobald – then Cabinet Member for Environment on Brighton and Hove City Council in 2008. He is now leader of the Conservative group on the Council, and long-serving city councillor for the Patcham ward.

The Conservative Party’s approach – in the face of the Horsdean proposal, backed by both the Green and Labour Groups – is now rather different; it is one of outright opposition, based around a claim that extending the Horsdean site would lead to groundwater contamination – a point explicitly addressed in the planning application, which contains proposals to connect the site to the city’s main sewerage network.  But it is clear, from the rhetoric of Tories around the city, that Tory opposition to the plan goes deeper than a mere technical objection.  A meeting organised by Hove MP Mike Weatherley two years ago cranked up the local rhetoric about travellers in a rather unpleasant way, despite assurances from the police that there was no evidence that the Horsdean site had led to increased crime in the district.  Now, looking at the Twitter feeds of some local Tories, you would think that this was the only political issue in Brighton and Hove; so totemic has it become.  And this flies in the face of history; as this blog post from local independent commentator (and independent candidate for Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner in last November’s elections) Ian Chisnall shows there is a long history of travellers and housed populations co-existing in the town.

The politics are curious.  When I used Twitter to call the Tories’ suggestion that Patcham was “united” against the Horsdean extension, local Tory candidate Karen Miles replied that I obviously didn’t live in the ward; I’ve actually lived here, in the heart of Patcham Village,  for ten years and claiming that your critics are outsiders is both ironic in the circumstances and does not strike me as being the cleverest of politics.

My own experience is that people in Patcham aren’t united and there is a diversity of views here that the Tories just don’t get.  Explain the rationale for the site honestly and people’s perceptions change.  In particular, the idea that 12 permanent traveller pitches is somehow a “threat” begins to look increasingly ridiculous.

We need to get past the rhetoric and deal with the facts.  The extension at Horsdean is needed; it will benefit the city, and the communities on the northern edge of the city above all.  The groundwater concern will be addressed by the planning inquiry, but it looks very much like an excuse; and the irony of the party that, less than five years ago, was threatening Patcham with a 600-space park and ride site does not need to read those of use who support extending Horsdean lectures on preserving the character of this part of the city.  An opportunity for political leadership is being turned into lowest-common-denominator rhetoric-mongering.  It’s not very edifying, and does the politicians concerned little credit.

And Patcham deserves better than this.

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9 thoughts on “Backing Brighton and Hove council’s proposals to expand the travellers’ site at Horsdean

  1. F A O Mr Clarance Mitchell, after watching you being interviewed on Sunday TV with regards to supplying site to Irish travelers, why is the question NOT being ask why do they NOT return to Ireland and let the Irish Goverment/Counciles supply them with a site and all that goes with it.
    why do they expect England to supply them with a site and site facilities for nothing in return, From my experience every where they have parked the local council have to clear the mess they leave behind them at a cost to the tax payer. kind regards Mr G C Smith

  2. Well I don’t think that is for any one to say !would it be wright to say that all people from other country’s go home and don’t be housed by British government and by the way the travellers from Brighton have lived in Brighton 30 years but have been British citizens for over 100 years and are Irish decent but still clas there self

    • ”Hi Lucy” i did not mean to be offensive but the usual way is you buy some land, get planning permission first, build your abode get the utilities installed (elect gas drains ect )and of course council tax, only i get the impression that travelers expect to have land/sites found for them from TV & Newspaper reports. kind regards G C S

  3. Hi mr smith well most travellers want to buy land and a lot have but the same problem accurs ! When Thay are trying to get planning Thay can’t get it because the community won’t allow it I have an example I have some friends in the Kent area and Thay bought some land it was out the way from public eye Thay were living there for 4 years there was a lane going in to the site jus of and old country lane there was a house right. at the gate witch could not be seen once u got right up to where the traveler site was and to our surprise””” the local community voted against it and the council said the entrance was dangerous but it wasOK for the house to be right at the gate. I have been there recently and there has been 2houses built along that road so I makes you wonder. I think if it had to be people from a settled comunity wanting to build a caravan park there would not be any problem . I think a lot of the problem is lack of communication if travellers were aloud to settle and still be able to settle as travellers Thay would get to know the locals even tho Thay are locals . Thank you for your reply and sorry obout the spelling

  4. Hi Lucy,It was nice to hear from you again and enlightening me to the dilemma the travellers are in.i sincerely hope that this situation will soon be resolved for them and they can all get on with there lives,you put up a very good case for them you should be there spokesperson. bye bye and kind regards G C Smith

  5. I agree travellers need a permanant site. Yes it’s easy to say let them have their own land then there’s no cost to the tax payer. Travellers do buy up land and it does get rejected by local councils ( whatever the party!) Yes nimblism from all parties at the end of the day! Around the Country.
    However my concerns for Horsdean are for myself, my family, friends, residents of Brighton & Hove up to Shoreham. This isn’t just a Patcham issue. Until just under a couple of years ago I didn’t even know of the existence of the transit site near me. (Of course I knew of a transit site!) Yes Mr Schofield can have a go at me for not knowing about the site, and maybe I should have taken more notice of its location. I didn’t until I became friendly with a disabled traveller and family who are settled in the community. They now live in a disabled house. This traveller took me there one day as he wanted me to look at some children who had come up with a rash on their bodies (retired nurse). It wasnt a rash but looked like blisters so I suggested they were taken to A&E. the children were treated and as I understand it the EU or some agency were on site a few days later taking water samples!
    I was also told by travellers about foal disgusting smells coming from toilet block and that every so often foal stuff comes up over flowing the toilets. I now know this to be over spills from cesspit much too small for site?! These poor travellers have had to live in some awful conditions up there, especially flooding. Because of this and other issues I became involved with PACHA (Patcham & Hollingbury Conservation Association)
    Since the group was started alot of research into the area which I would like to remind certain people is an SPZ1 area.( Protected water zone of the most sensitive kind) Nothing should ever be built there. I would also like to point out that Horsdean is actually the other side of the road which is an SPZ2, not sensitive.Horsdean is in Ewe Bottom. So Council deliberately (in my view) lied and mislead various agencies and council. There is evidence that the original planning application wasnt even adhered to. Why wasn’t it checked off?
    So we have a new issue Greens/Labour want to add permanant site right next to transit site. This cannot work for a number of reasons. If anyone wants to hear and see infomation the truth, go onto PACHA Facebook and ask to attend a meeting.
    As for our PPC Clarence Mitchell a huge thank you for BBC Politics show last Sunday for highlighting the issue. He is not anti traveller, he is like a lot of City residents like myself anti illegal encampments. So please feel free to contact PACHA just as Clarence Mitchell did. Get the facts and PLEASE come up with suggestions as to where a permanant and I will include transit site in this could realistically go?
    Would anyone agree to a big housing development being built on top of a huge water reservoir NO. This is purely an environmental issue.
    NO WANTS TO LISTEN WHY?!!!!!

  6. I think you do indeed need to bypass rhetoric and party politics and actually discover the facts before you dismiss the environmental issues so easily as an ‘excuse’. My family and I have, for many years and including the abortive park and ride scheme, opposed any and all development in that area on the simple basis that the land is just so damned vulnerable.

    Your argument that a larger, permanent site is desirable is entirely valid and makes perfect sense, just not there! There are other sites available that could be employed, except, one suspects, they are more commercially viable rather than being ‘just’ a muddy field out of sight, out of mind.

    You really want to be informed and gain a full appreciation as to why we’re all so concerned? Get yourself along to a PHCA meeting and find out. Seriously.

  7. I cant see and end to this problem ,last night travellers who were parked at Hangleton Bottom and had been given notice to quit moved out last evening 16th Dec,today 17th reports they are now in Hove park I dont think they’ve got the councils blessing..
    If the council put in a permanent site where ever,, and it complied with the Governments requirements for local councils .
    Would that give the authorities more powers to move on illegal and unauthorized camps more easily ,I am not being confrontational as there were quite a few young kids with the family’s that got moved last evening, I know they are used to it,
    I cant comprehend the travellers way of life ,yet I drove long distance as a truck driver for 36 years sleeping in the cab while I was away from home here in the UK and on the continent ..
    Anyway if the council build a new site well managed with good facilities would that placate the the traveling fraternity,or would it just facilitate one group ,and still get other groups coming into the area as we do now .

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