Archive for the 'van dwellers' Category

Greens need to answer questions on Gypsies and Travellers

Caroline Lucas’s Early Day Motion on Gypsies and Travellers leaves many questions unanswered, not least of which is how it relates to the situation in Brighton & Hove.

1)      She states that “there is no justification for the forced eviction of Gypsies and Travellers where no alternative lawful sites are available and residents seek to live in harmony”. We have an official site in Brighton & Hove – at Horsdean – so perhaps she would like to make a public statement supporting the efforts of the Council and Sussex Police to evict illegal encampments in the City such as those at Black Rock and Wild Park?

2)      Or perhaps she doesn’t think that in Brighton & Hove we have enough “satisfactory and culturally appropriate alternative accommodation” for gypsy and traveller families. In which case, perhaps she could be up front with residents and say exactly where she thinks this should be located in the City.

3)      What exactly does Caroline Lucas mean by seeking to “live in harmony”? I can’t recall ever receiving a single letter or e-mail from a resident welcoming an illegal traveller encampment near their home – perhaps she could enlighten us.

4)      It is certainly true that the children of gypsy and traveller families do significantly worse in terms of education and health outcomes, compared to other families and this is very unfortunate. However, this is not going to be addressed by allowing them to break the law.

5)      Where does Caroline Lucas stand on the issue of van dwellers in Brighton & Hove – in other words, non-ethnic gypsy and travellers who choose to live, unlawfully, on the City’s streets? Does she, for example, agree with the recent judgement at Brighton County Court that the Council was right to seek the eviction of van dwellers at Coldean Lane near the university and that we were not breaching their “human rights” as they had claimed? This is a very live issue in many parts of the City, not least with the summer season approaching and when I tried to raise it at a Council meeting last year, the Greens refused to have a constructive discussion.

As usual with the Greens we get lots of hand-wringing and sloganising but no concrete answers to the problems that residents want us to deal with. Putting forward Early Day Motions is all very laudable but what would they actually do?

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‘Smash EDO’ Verdict Turns Justice on its Head

I must admit to being completely astonished to read the other week of the ‘not guilty’ verdict in the trial of the ‘Smash EDO’ activists who broke into and caused £200,000 worth of criminal damage to the EDO MBM HQ in Moulsecoomb. These so-called ‘decomissioners’ were adjudged to have acted with “lawful excuse” to prevent further alleged war crimes being committed by Israel against Palestinians in Gaza.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Palestinian situation I believe that this judgement opens up a real pandora’s box in terms of the law and how it is policed in this country.

The idea that you can now legally and justifiably cause criminal damage to a company/organisation who are acting completely within the law (and incidentally employing significant numbers of local people) just because you don’t agree with what they do, is extremely worrying and sets a dangerous precedent. Where does this leave the Police? Do they now have to make an operational judgement as to whether a criminal act is morally justifiable before deciding whether or not to make arrests?

And I was equally flabbergasted to read that Caroline Lucas, the new Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, had stood up in the court to defend the actions of these people. She is quoted as saying that they had “exhausted all democratic avenues … to prevent further suffering in Gaza.” I would have thought that having a member of parliament to fight their cause in Westminster would have been a very good democratic avenue which clearly can’t already have been exhausted after only 2 months of her taking office.

This isn’t the first time that the Green Party have shown a complete disregard for the law and respect for the institutions that they represent (remember MPs and councillors have a duty to uphold the law and to act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them). Other examples include:

1) Cllr. Vicky Wakefield-Jarrett stated in a public meeting of the Full Council:

Firstly on the subject of lawfulness, when the Parliament that makes the laws of this country is representative of the people that live in this country then I will observe by the laws of that Parliament. In the meantime I will observe by morals and justice. That’s my personal take on the law while it remains to be such an undiverse and unrepresentative body, I don’t see that those laws can be expected to cover the majority of us.

At the time, she was defending the right of van dwellers to park their vans and live on the public highway – an unlawful activity.

2) Cllr. Ben Duncan (who is ironically the Council’s only representative on the Sussex Police Authority) has regularly publicised ‘Smash EDO’ demonstrations in the City, including advertisements which invite people to ‘come fight and party’.

3) Cllr. Duncan has also described benefit fraud as a ‘petty crime’ and enforcing it is ‘just another way that the poor in society are victimised’.

I could go on….

I am all for the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech but this must be done within the law – the minute people break those laws, in my view they forfeit that right to protest. Effectively giving the green light for people to cause criminal damage whenever they believe it is ‘morally justified’ is setting a very dangerous precedent.

Van dwellers – setting the record straight

Some of the reports that have come out following my decision to raise this matter at a Council meeting recently have been simply ridiculous. We are not targetting anyone, being hostile to a minority or demonising people. We are simply seeking to address an issue that has been raised.

I approach the issue of van dwellers from the standpoint that the law says that living on the highway is illegal. I also have serious concerns about the health and safety needs of van dwellers and nearby residents, the needs of children living in vans and the fact that there have been reports from residents of insanitary behaviour from some van dwellers. The original Notice of Motion I tabled with the support of my Conservative colleagues called for a new bye-law to be introduced and, after discussions with other councillors, I announced a working group, comprising all Parties on the Council and hopefully some outside agencies, such as the police.

There has also been some misinformation flying around about our housing responsibilities as a Council. Van dwellers have just the same rights as any other person to apply to the council as homeless or indeed to seek housing advice from our excellent housing options team. They will be assessed in exactly the same manner and if, genuinely found to be in priority need, they will be offered accommodation. In addition, all vans are visited by council officers to assess the health and welfare needs of the occupants. But we are under no obligation to offer a site where they can park their vans.

Many people objected to my raising this issue but as politicians it is our responsibility to respond to concerns raised by residents. If I had swept this under the carpet we would not have the cross-Party working group and nor would we be starting work towards managing the issue of van dwellers. 

I want to thank everyone who has written to me supporting the stance I have taken. Our work continues.