Travellers and Gypsies oppose Mayor’s Plan

Photo: LGTU

Gypsy and Traveller groups are protesting against Mayor Boris Johnson’s review of the ‘London Plan’, which proposes to scrap previously agreed targets for increasing the number of sites in the capital.

The amendment to remove the targets has been public since September and has been met with concern from many groups and campaigners, including the Hackney based London Gypsy and Traveller Unit.

The groups went to City Hall last week to express fear that, with no targets, and under the new system devolving decision-making to local authorities, boroughs will have no motivation to improve Traveller accommodation.

Sites in Hackney and Lewisham have been reduced in size over the past 12 years, with the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit recording 14 pitch closures in Lewisham and eight in Hackney.

Tower Hamlets Council is planning to relocate their site due to regeneration and Crossrail developments, but the new site will be the same size and will not resolve the shortage of pitches.

Gill Brown, a spokeswoman for the charity, said: “Boroughs may say: ‘why should we bother with this when other borough’s aren’t?’

“We have no proof, but we strongly suspect that there is pressure on the mayor from the boroughs who essentially don’t want to be bothered with it.”

Mr Johnson said in October: “There are plenty of other groups that have particular housing needs – the elderly or students – and we don’t feature them in the ‘London Plan’. We are content to leave it to the boroughs.”

A survey commissioned in 2008 concluded that 811 new pitches were needed over the next 5 years in order to accommodate population increases and to allow travellers who have been forced to live in flats because of space shortages, to return to caravan living. Mr Johnson reduced the figure to 538 and later to 238, and is now proposing to scrap targets altogether.

Ms Brown said: “Boris came to this 238 figure by projecting how many pitches were needed based on the amount of people currently in caravans, which is absolute nonsense.”

However London Assembly member Tony Arbour defends the GLA’s assessment: “We are told that the target is based on relocating those currently in regular housing to pitches because they have a ‘psychological aversion to bricks and mortar’. This is not based on scientific research.”

But Ms Brown said: “You don’t need scientific research to show that it’s a completely different way of living – it’s common sense. For travellers to find themselves in a flat is a huge change and it’s no different from how settled people might feel if they were forced to live in a caravan.”

She explained how families from the travelling community end up in ‘bricks and mortar’ housing: “Most of them are not bought up in houses, they’re forced into them. So you’ll have a young couple – often married at 16 or 18. You then have a new family unit who will have to move due to over-crowding but when they leave the borough they don’t have access to a social housing waiting list, as to be eligible you must be from the borough.

“They end up in short-term, private accommodation which leads to enormous problems. They have to deal with things they haven’t encountered before, the benefits system, bills, unhelpful landlords.

“Living in four walls they go crazy.”

The final decision on the London Plan is expected in spring next year.

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