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Negotiation is better than litigation for Gypsy/Traveller camps

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  August 24, 2015 |

Encampment on Holdback MoorAs was reported this week in the YEP there was a recent encampment down on Holbeck Moor. This has just moved on but I would like to provide a brief response to the article and comment on the wider approach taken towards roadside camps.

Firstly, it is worth reflecting on how long it has been since we have read an article like this. A few years back it was difficult to go many weeks, particularly over summer months, without reports, usually very negative, of another encampment. Put aside debate over the style and tone of such articles, it is a positive that there has been less about ‘problem’ camps in the Leeds area, largely perhaps because there have been fewer deemed ‘newsworthy’.

I would suggest that this reality, of a notable drop in roadside camps, and certainly those that attract interest, is down in part to the success of a more pragmatic approach. Whilst there have been few formal examples of official Negotiated Stopping agreement between the Council and those stopping on camps, it does appear that reasonable discussions are often being reached, which is avoiding tension or certain environmental issues which usually attract headlines.

Back to the article, I note that this, as is often the case, focuses on the problems and local upset which this particular camp has allegedly brought. I do not wish to challenge the accuracy of the story or indeed defend the actions described, such as flowerbed damage, if found to be true; I don’t think that is a helpful debate for anyone. Rather, let us look again at why these stories have been notably rare and how we can ensure that this return to being the case; for the benefit of all.

Whilst not an excuse, an explanation for some environmental difficulties observed in this case, is the lack of relevant service provision. A key reason why other camps in Leeds have been far more successful is the appropriate use of skips or bins and toilets. This, alongside some reassurance of short term security has usually ensured stronger site self-management, which avoids other wider problems mentioned in the article, notably fly tipping; which I note as an aside is sometimes proved to be committed by residents and not Travellers.

Now even if we can persuade people of the practical value of a more pragmatic response, there is often a stumbling block of ‘principle’. This is usually posed in some variation of the question “why should these camps be tolerated at all, why are they even here?” The second part of that query is perhaps most interesting and one which is rarely explored adequately. Looking back to the article, what is lacking is a voice from the camp itself, leaving us with a faceless group; their intensions are unknown and whom it becomes much easier to criticise.

Of course every camp is different in nature; size, people and the reason for stopping will all vary. Aside from the disappointment that we too often don’t get to see a human side to those living on roadside camps, by failing to explore these questions it becomes more difficult to discuss a pragmatic approach. It is therefore vital to encourage all; whether media, Council or resident to think about these questions and of course for members stopping on these camps to engage positively with them if posed appropriately.

GATE, as always, are willing and able to play a role in bringing people together and in shifting the debate back to a more practical and collaborative place. None of us really wants to read about camps essentially ‘failing’, for whatever reason, even if it does make an easy story. Let’s remember that this has not happened very often recently and why this has been the case; let’s get back to negotiation.

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