27 July 2021
The City Council at a recent meeting passed a motion regarding the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, but did not agree to amendments proposed by Cllr Copley.
The Bill will, among other attacks on civil liberties, criminalise trespass on land and allow authorities to seize property and caravans. These provisions will have a devastating effect on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) families. The Council motion expresses strong concerns about the Bill. The amendment proposed by Cllr Copley called for a change in the Council's approach to unauthorised encampments: from enforcement to prioritising provision of sites and negotiated stopping arrangements. The amendment also called on the council to seek to identify suitable transit sites within the City of Cambridge for Travellers to legally stop at, recognising the immense cultural importance of the City to the Traveller community, and to explore with the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC) team potential locations for a transit site as part of their conversation with local communities about the future of the CBC. This would enable the close relatives of Travellers requiring medical care to have access to a legal transit site. During the Full City Council meeting, City Councillors from the leading group reported having begun discussions with the CBC team about a possible transit site.
Cllr Copley said: “Cambridge City Council needs to change its approach to the Traveller community in light of the serious shortage of legal transit sites available nationally and locally. We need more action if we want to genuinely build trust with Gypsy and Traveller communities. I proposed we prioritise negotiated stopping and site provision. The vast majority of Travellers would prefer to stop on a socially rented or private site, but can’t, and are forced into stopping on unsafe and unsuitable land without facilities, and to face constant evictions.”
As a result of a desperate lack of authorised stopping places and permanent sites in the UK, it is reported that 3000 Traveller families across the country have no lawful place to stop. Research published this year from Friends, Families and Travellers showed that there were only five transit sites in the whole of England with any available pitches. Local authorities are required to undertake regular Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessments (GTANAs) to identify need. At national level this system results in a huge shortage of transit sites. Last year, Cambridge City Council was reported to have conducted five evictions of unauthorised camps between March and July. Several of these evictions involved the same extended Traveller family of 36 people, including 20 children, a newborn and a heavily pregnant woman.
Cllr Copley said “Rather than repeatedly moving people on, we need to start identifying suitable transit sites within Cambridge for Travellers to legally stop at. It is not clear where Cambridge City Council expect Travellers to move to legally after they evict a family."
Experience in Leeds has shown that the provision of stopping sites and use of negotiation rather than eviction from unauthorised sites results in better outcomes for Gypsies and Travellers as well as savings to the public purse. The Green Party will continue to stand in solidarity with Gypsy and Traveller communities, against all forms of systemic racism, and push for just treatment by the local authorities.
Dr Hannah Charlotte Copley, Green Councillor for Abbey ward