Leeds GATE

Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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Negotiated Stopping - something we can all celebrate!!

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  August 13, 2012 |

Negotiated Stopping
Young people getting a chance to play on the first negotiated stopping site in Leeds

We’re celebrating hard at Leeds GATE.  After nearly a decade of work, the Negotiated Stopping Agreement which was signed by the City Council and a small group of Leeds based Travellers last Friday; feels like we’ve won a gold medal. Negotiated Stopping is a very simple concept but it requires critical ingredients to work.  Motivation: everyone has got to really want to do it.  Risk: everyone has had to stick their necks out a bit further than usual.  Trust; we have to leave all our histories behind and believe that our partners in this deal want it to work as much as we do.

It’s been a team effort from the outset.  Alongside Leeds GATE, individual Gypsies and Travellers, City Council officers, Elected Members, and members of the public, have all had a significant part to play.  And like an Olympic performance, much of the hard work has gone on out of the spotlight, prior to the fanfare of the end result.  We want to extend huge thanks to everyone who has participated so far but it is fair to say that no progress was made until City Councillor Peter Gruen, Executive Board member for Neighbourhoods and Environment, took the reigns of leadership on the issue. Here’s how it’s been reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post.

So, what next? Hopefully nothing will happen. The families will live in peace.  Not in the nicest area of the city, granted, but it is on hard standing.  There is no animosity from people on the camp towards the sex workers who operate in the area, but understandably there is some concern about the people who access the sex workers services.  Young women off the camp particularly find it difficult to walk to local shops for example.  There is quite a bad problem with rats, but the families are cutting back undergrowth and working to remove anything that could attract them.  Leeds GATE will be putting on some activities to keep the children and young people busy for the summer and then they will go to school.  A baby will be born.  A disabled man will access care.  Several people with serious depression and anxiety will have an opportunity to take stock and relax.

What could go wrong?

The families might find the vermin too unbearable to live with and move.

  • If it does happen the council will try to encourage the families to live somewhere where another agreement would be possible.

People living on the camp could break their agreement in a number of ways  mostly relating to environmental damage, tipping or burning rubbish.

  • If it does happen, other families on the camp, knowing that this could affect their opportunity to stay on that camp, or to have other agreements to stop on council land in the future, will be very unhappy and are likely to express this.
  • The local authority environment staff will know exactly who is living on the camp and are likely to be able to fine the individual for the act they have committed immediately.
  • Ultimately if poor behaviour continues to breach the agreement, the courts will rapidly find in the council’s favour and grant an order for possession of the land; effectively an eviction.  Unlike previously though, eviction wouldn’t necessarily have to be of the whole camp.

Someone living on the camp might commit a crime or act of anti social behaviour (either near to the camp or further away).

  • Despite popular perception there is no reason to assume offending behaviour. If it does happen the police will be able to deal with the matter as they would with someone in a house, as an individual offender who must take responsibility for their own actions.  The offender will be dealt with directly by the police.  Additionally, members of the families will remind the offender that their behaviour might risk the whole family having to move, which no-one wants.

Someone not on the camp may (as happens all too frequently on unauthorised camps) fly tip.

  • At last the families on the camp will have good reason to take the risk of challenging anyone carrying out actions which could jeopardise the Negotiated Stopping Agreement.

The families could be subject to racist attack

  • Well frankly what is new? These families experience racist abuse but rarely have confidence to report it to the police.  We might hope that relations between the families on bath road and the police will have chance to develop while the families are in one place.  Its possible that confidence to report any racist abuse (shouted insults, threats or actual violence) will develop.

It’s best not to assume that nothing will go wrong.  Despite all the reasons, like improved access to healthcare, reduced eviction costs,  families having time to ‘be a community together’ – which will encourage and incentivise co-operation – things do go wrong.  What is important is that, unlike the previous ‘shift em, shift em now’ system which affected those who behave well equally to those who behave badly, Negotiated Stopping will allow for individual enforcement if it should be necessary and reward civic pride and participation.  Whatever might go wrong, our ability to deal with it quickly and fairly is going to be vastly improved. This is great news for Gypsies and Travellers in Leeds, great news for council tax payers who are completely fed up of having their money wasted, and great news for Leeds residents who don’t want unmanaged camps of people who have no incentive to ‘act local’ even though they usually are, appearing on their playing fields.

Congratulations to everyone who has helped to make this happen. We’re sure that Local Authorities all around the whole country will be encouraged by the bold, common sense, actions in Leeds.

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Sorry folks, getting my Committees mixed up! I meant the Equal Opportunities Committee!

Helen Jones's picture

The baby has been born, welcome to a world where tolerance and compromise is possible! xx