The issue of unauthorised traveller encampments, last seen locally during 2014 and 2015 on two sites in Bradley Stoke, hit the headlines again during August when around 30 caravans pitched up on Forty Acres in Stoke Gifford.
An area of rough grassland and scattered woodland, Forty Acres is located on the right side of Hatchet Road when travelling from Bradley Stoke to Stoke Gifford, on the opposite side of the road to Meade Park.
On Wednesday 9th August, local residents reported that around 15 traveller caravans and associated vehicles had entered the site. A statement appearing later on the Stoke Gifford Parish Council website reported that access had been gained “by cutting a bollard lock and gate chain on the vehicular access gate on Hatchet Road opposite Meade Park”. It added: “It is anticipated that the travellers will be removed within seven days, but any resident concerns about the site should be reported to the police.”
A South Gloucestershire council spokesperson was quoted as saying: “We are aware of the encampment and we have visited the site and we are currently in the process of organising the necessary welfare checks. We are working with partners at the police and parish council to negotiate with the families, in line with our standard procedures.”
Hopes were raised when the parish council announced that a Section 77 notice had been served requiring the site to be vacated by 3pm on Friday, but the deadline came and went and more caravans arrived over the weekend.
Local residents complained that vehicles had blocked paths through the site, dogs were being allowed to roam free and youngsters riding motor bikes were causing a nuisance.
With the number of caravans on the site having swelled to around 20 by Tuesday 15th August, and a second Section 77 notice having gone unheeded, it was announced that SGC was initiating proceedings at Bristol Magistrates Courts, with the aim of securing an eviction order by the following Friday.
In a response emailed to a resident, parish council chair Ernie Brown wrote: “Like you, we are also very concerned over the state the site will be left in and what costs we will be left with. I have been on site several times trying to negotiate terms, resulting in being spat at, threatened and foul mouthed. There is no more that can be done and we now have to let the legal proceedings take their course.”
A summons was duly issued by the magistrates’ court and served on the travellers on Wednesday 16th August. In the meantime, there were reports of two walkers being bitten by free-roaming dogs on the site and a hedge being set on fire.
A few hours after the order had been issued by magistrates on Friday 18th August, a team of bailiffs moved onto the site to begin the eviction of what was, by then, an encampment of around 30 caravans. A number of police vehicles also attended, but officers said they were there only in a “standby” capacity and the eviction was reported to have proceeded in a “calm and organised” manner.
With such a large number of caravans now on the move, the question was now: Where would they go next? A number made a temporary stop along the verge of Brook Way in Bradley Stoke, but it wasn’t long before the answer was known as reports came in of traveller caravans entering Scott Park in Patchway. At this point, the story took an interesting twist when a council groundsman took a decision to entice the travellers away from the public park by unlocking the gate to a field at the nearby Tumps nature area. By the end of Friday, what appeared to be the very same 25 to 30 caravans that had earlier been camped at Stoke Gifford were pitched up at The Tumps.
Asked about the unusual circumstances surrounding the travellers’ arrival on the field at The Tumps, a spokesperson said: “Patchway Town Council was not made aware of the eviction from Stoke Gifford and so was not prepared for the arrival of the travellers in Scott Park on the playing fields. The decision by our groundsman to ask the travellers to move on to The Tumps has been commended by our councillors as it has saved the council money in re-instating sports turf and avoided confrontation with residents who use the park and Patchway Sports & Social Club.”
Monday 21st August saw Patchway Town Council commence the same sequence of legal proceedings that has been used in Stoke Gifford and as we went to press it was anticipated that an eviction order would be secured by Tuesday 29th August.
Back in Stoke Gifford, an extensive clean up operation has been started at the Forty Acres site. Local residents have reported seeing “huge amounts” of garden waste, along with domestic utility machines, gas canisters and bed mattresses.
An extraordinary meeting of the parish council was due to take place on Tuesday 29th August, “To discuss site security for parks and open spaces across the parish, and to approve funding as required.”
Local MP Jack Lopresti later commented:
“Following the recent incidents involving illegal traveller camps appearing at Forty Acres and The Tumps, I have invited representatives from Stoke Gifford Parish Council and Patchway Town Council to meet with me. Further to this, I will be meeting with the Police & Crime Commissioner and members of the Police to discuss their response to recent incidents.”
“After similar incidents occurred in Bradley Stoke in 2014 and 2015, I asked questions in Parliament each time about the legislation that local authorities and police forces have at their disposal. Both times the Department of Communities and Local Government believed current laws were adequate but disparities have been found in their applications across the country. With this in mind, I met with South Gloucestershire Council and the police to highlight what could be done to resolve criminal incidents involving the traveller community.”
“I have received correspondence from many constituents on the wider issues associated with the traveller community and will look for solutions to them, whether that will be legislative action or looking to improve infrastructure within The Council Plan.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine (on pages 18 & 19). The magazine is delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.
Postscript (8th September 2017): In the event, Patchway Town Council did not need to secure an eviction order as the last travellers vacated The Tumps by Sunday 27th August.