New Cross residents oppose council plans for traveller site

The Wheelshunters Club Pic: Diamond Geezer

The Wheelshunters Club Pic: Diamond Geezer

Opposition is mounting to proposals by Lewisham council  to build a traveller site over a community centre and an outdoor games area in New Cross.

The site on Hornshay Street is one of two areas shortlisted last month by Lewisham Council’s Gypsy and Traveller Local Plan as potentially suitable for a caravan site. The area currently holds a multi-use games area and the Wheelshunter’s Club, a bar and community hall popular with Millwall fans.

Another site suggested to be turned into a traveller site is on the corner of Pool Court and Fordmill Road in Catford. The site is used as a scaffolding yard and a nature conservation area that is inaccessible to the public.

The council is running a public consultation on the sites until November 30, with the final site selection scheduled for January 2017.

Dionne Lewis, who lives on the nearby Winslade Estate, started a petition against the New Cross site along with three other lifelong residents of the area.

Lewis, a communications executive, has also set up a Facebook and Twitter page to protest the plans, which she said that nearly all local residents were unaware about until recently.

Lewis said that the “severe lack of opportunities for young people” in the area caused her to oppose the site.

Lewis added: “The multi-use games area plays an integral part in their lives, not just during school breaks but after school on a daily basis as a place to socialise, release energy and play safely.”

“We have two other traveller sites within a three-mile radius, but only one multi-use games area for our community,” she said.

The multi use games area in New Cross

Ilinca Diaconescu, from the non-profit support service London Gypsy and Traveller Unit, said that she believed both sites have advantages and disadvantages.

Diaconescu added: “This is a positive approach from the council to address the accommodation needs of one of the most disadvantaged communities in the borough.”

“Not having a caravan site to live on has had huge negative impacts on the community, particularly in terms of mental health and well-being, isolation from family, loss of traditional ways of living and identity, lack of support, insecurity of tenure and access to education.”

“A new site in Lewisham could contribute to reducing some of the inequalities facing these families and could give an encouraging example to other local authorities,” she added.

The proposed site in New Cross

The proposed site in New Cross

Lewisham has not had an allocated traveller site since the 2009 closure of a former site on Thurston Road. In 2012, Mayor Sir Steve Bullock rejected proposals  for a new traveller site in Ladywell.

In February, an unauthorised traveller camp near New Cross Station caused upheaval among residents after the travellers left behind a mountain of rubbish in the Deptford dump.

In their consultation report released last month, the council recognised that the loss of the games area was a downside to developing the 400 square metre New Cross site, which could hold at least six residential pitches for travellers.

The report promised to mitigate the loss with “either improvements to an existing facility or facilities or a replacement facility”.

Lewis said that the group does not “believe Lewisham Council will fulfil this promise. There are no other [multi-use games areas] in the borough that can be accessed conveniently by our residents – this was one of the reasons we all initially campaigned to get [the games area] in the first place”.

A Lewisham Council spokesperson said: “We are responsible for meeting the housing needs of all our residents, and we are currently considering the accommodation needs of the travelling community.”

“We have identified that we need six pitches for gypsies and travellers in the borough over the next 15 years. There are still a number of steps to go through before a final decision on a preferred site is made and we are currently consulting residents.”

“The consultation closes on 30 November and we encourage all those with a view to complete the survey which can be found at All contributions will be considered before any decision is made.”

Leave a Reply