Are travelling communities welcome in Croydon?

By - Friday 4th December, 2015

As a controversial national issue is debated in Croydon, Max Shirley wonders if our council should allow new permanent local sites for travelling people

Croydon’s population continues to grow, including the local community of gypsies and travellers. Naturally, more and more unauthorised sites are becoming overcrowded – hence the reason that permanent sites should be invested in. Or should they?

Both the gypsy and travelling communities don’t have the best reputation. A stigma has arisen stereotyping them to be violent, loud and unco-operative. TV shows such as My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on Channel 4 haven’t really helped this problem either – by depicting the men from this society as tough, with their spiked-up hair and a cabinet of knives under their beds (yes, there actually was), with women in flamboyant dresses and showing them moving around by horse and carriage. Not all travellers or gypsies are like this: they are constantly being evicted from car parks by bailiffs and the majority of the time they go peacefully, but it seems that this isn’t always the case and reports of disturbances make it to mainstream media and create this outrage and feeling of unwelcomeness towards the community.

A hot topic of discussion surrounding the gypsy and travelling communities is whether or not they pay any tax. Some travellers and gypsies live on local authority sites or privately owned sites and so do pay council tax, rent, electricity bills, etc. All of these charges are measured in the same way as they are for an ordinary house. The majority of travellers and gypsies are thought to live on illegal encampments, meaning that, generally, they do not pay taxes. Some argue that they don’t receive general services either but for the bulk of cases this is not true, as children attend local schools and water is usually gained from local sources. However, I don’t think that if gypsies and travellers paid taxes the whole of Croydon would welcome the arrival of permanent sites.

To be completely honest the amount of space required isn’t humungous, but where can we find it?

There are currently 19 pitches provided; they are located in Latham’s Way, Valley Park, and Broad Green. According to the London Boroughs’ Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessment Report of March 2008, a further 10-19 pitches are needed to accommodate the ever increasing number of gypsies and travellers. The Croydon Local Plan: Strategic Policies vowed to work with the lower figure and seek to deliver 10 more pitches by the year 2021, but this was still not good enough. Due to the adoption of the Strategic Policies in 2013 a further Needs Assessment was required. This considered the need up to 2033, and in November of 2013 the Croydon Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessment (GTANA) was produced. It calls for a review of needs every 3-5 years and illustrated that 49 additional pitches would be required by 2033.

It has been decided that 2-3 sites will be needed, the assessment and selection of sites for gypsy and travellers, put forward by Croydon Council, states that the average size of a pitch is 500 square metres and that each site must be on a minimum 1500 square metres to entertain three pitches. Through some quick maths I was able to work out that across the 39 required pitches, a minimum of 19,500 square metres would be needed – around the size of three football pitches. To be completely honest this amount of space isn’t humungous, but where can we find it?

The local council devised a ranking system to determine where are the most suitable and sustainable places for these sites to be situated. They took into consideration the areas’s flood zone score, amount of local green space and biodiversity, amongst other categories. You can see the full list here. To cut a long story short, the final three locations are: Coombe Farm (off Oaks Road, Shirley), Coombe Lodge Nursery (Conduit Lane, South Croydon) and Pear Tree Farm (Featherbed Lane, Addington).

No locations have yet been finalised and the council continues to talk with locals. As the plot thickens, I’m sure that this won’t be last that we hear from the permanent sites for travellers debate.

Max Shirley

Max Shirley

Max recently finished Sixth Form at a local independent school and will be starting an English Literature degree in the new academic year. Max is a copy-editor at a Croydon-based start-up. Twitter: @max_shirley_

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  • Anne Giles

    Those final three locations are not in any way acceptable to any of the residents in these areas.

    • Nick Davies

      Can we please see the full results of your consultation with all the residents in these locations.

      • Anne Giles

        It was discussed at a meeting last night where we were told by Councillors that residents had been asked. In the meantime, as the deadline for replying to the Council is the 18th, further discussions are taking place. I have a meeting with my people on the 10th. Their replies will be passed on to the Councillor in charge, who will then send it on by the 18th.

        • Max Shirley

          I would love to hear how these meetings go and of any progress made!

          • Anne Giles

            Will keep you posted!

          • Max Shirley

            Many thanks. Merry Christmas!

          • Anne Giles

            And to you!

          • Anne Giles

            The meeting on the 10th was cancelled, so we were asked to send our objections separately. Two of our MPs have urged us to write by the 18th.

    • Harley S

      Considering your reported comments about gypsies, it’s not surprising that you say the locations are not acceptable. I’m assuming those locations are close to your back yard?

      • Anne Giles

        Merry Christmas!

  • Stephen Giles

    There may well be gypsy/traveller communities who are law abiding and respectful to local laws, but most appear to be not over cautious in their well reported antics of Trespass to Land and subsequently leaving the most hideous amount of mess when moved on. Frankly, the mind boggles at the level of potential mess that will arise at these proposed sites. No, we do not want them.

    • Max Shirley

      I partially agree, and to add to your point, there is a school close to two of the locations, this should be considered when the final decision is made.

  • Charlotte Davies

    All people have a right to live somewhere; however, in Croydon we already have a staggering concentration of social issues, some of our own making, but many pushed here from other boroughs from both London and the boroughs to the South of us because we have relatively cheap accommodation. Public services such as Health, Education and Housing are struggling to cope. We need a London wide responsibility for spreading social issues across all communities and ensuring that appropriate levels of funds follow and ensure that these issues do not translate into long-term deprivation which in turn triggers social unrest.

  • Rossella Scalia

    Hi Max, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    The following project has been submitted to the council’s attention in October 2015.
    I am still waiting for a response. Hope you will find it interesting.

    Nomad Architecture for Ethnic Minorities: