New traveller site plans criticised by locals

Residents say Church Grove is too narrow for caravans and similar size vehicles pic: Courtesy of Church Grove residents

Access to a proposed traveller site in Ladywell could be dangerous, local residents have claimed.

The proposed location for the new camp is the former Watergate School site, near Ladywell Station.

Residents of Church Grove, which would be the access road for the site, said that they were not opposed to travellers being in Lewisham, but that the site chosen by the council was unsuitable due to access issues.

Their main concern, aired at a public meeting, was that Church Grove is a relatively narrow single-lane road, which would not be wide enough for a caravan to travel down. Clare Brynley-Jones, a local resident, described the situation not as one of prejudice against travellers, but as one of practical concern.

She described the proposals as “stupid, lazy planning by lazy planning officers with poor people skills, stupid and dangerous results. This is not a model proposal, it is a disaster waiting to happen.

“It will turn Church Grove into a battleground between these two communities.”

Lewisham Council’s director of regeneration and asset management, Steve Gough, noted at the meeting that it was illegal to remove vehicles without permission, despite residents claiming that the council would suspend parking when caravans needed to be moved.

It is estimated that there are around 500 travellers, made up of 24 extended families, currently residing in Lewisham. Under the London Plan, Lewisham Council is required to find suitable sites to accommodate them. EastLondonLines reported last year on the protests against the Mayor of London’s review of the plan.

The proposed site, estimated to cost around £1.8 million, would house only one of these families on four or five caravan pitches.

Gough said at the meeting that the council would continue to examine future needs of the traveller community after the Church Grove site was finished.

There has been no dedicated traveller site in Lewisham since 2009, when a former site on Thurston Road was closed to make way for the Lewisham Gateway redevelopment scheme. Church Grove had been chosen as the preferred place to relocate the people living in on this site prior to its closure in June 2007.

After an initial planning permission for five caravan pitches in April 2008 was put on hold, a second site search conducted by the council chose Church Grove as the most suitable site in the borough out of 41 possible locations.

The site, if approved, will be opened up to applications from any travellers in the borough under a similar system to the allocation of social housing.

Fionna Wire, a resident of Ladywell Road, whose house backs on to the Church Grove site and has a similarly narrow access route, raised concerns about emergency services access to both Church Grove and the proposed traveller site.

She said: “Information gathered in the assessment five years ago is now not current.

“I was taken to hospital earlier this year and it took 20 minutes to get the ambulance out of my drive. These proposals may put people in serious danger. If someone has a serious illness like a heart attack, every moment matters.”

Concerns about the information gathered about caravan and other vehicle widths in the original 2007 assessment, now outdated, were widely aired at the meeting.

A Lewisham Council spokesperson said:  “Along with other local authorities around the country, our council has an obligation to identify the need for a suitable site for gypsies and travellers.

“We are now consulting residents and we are aware of several concerns including that relating to the width of the road. We will be looking into these in more detail before any decision is made.

“We understand this is an emotive issue but we need to give it thorough consideration.”

The consultation process on the site will be open until December 18, with the decision being announced by the Mayor of Lewisham in January 2012. Church Grove Residents are considering taking legal action if the proposal is given the green light in January.

Members of the traveller community did not attend the meeting.

Leave a Reply