Travellers evicted from Coldham’s Common call for local transit camp in Cambridge
Cambridge City Council yesterday (September 1) acted to take possession of land on Coldham’s Common which had been occupied by travellers.
Around 18 adults and 20 children had been on the site not far from Abbey swimming pool for ten weeks. Half a dozen caravans were parked at the far end of the Common, with associated vehicles.
By early afternoon the bailiffs were on the site, awaiting trucks to tow the travellers’ vehicles away.
Also on the site was Beverley Carpenter of the Traveller Advocacy Project, part of Oblique Arts .
“The main problem for those involved in this situation is that Cambridge City Council has provided no transit site,” said Beverley when interviewed on the Common shortly before the travellers were removed from the site at 4pm. “It could save a lot of evictions if there was a transit site to go to - and the government has said that there should be no evictions during the Covid-19 pandemic. It would be so much more sensible to leave them in one spot.
They have been to court twice so far and the council had withdrawn the plan to evict them, but the last court case was in Peterborough, probably to avoid the travellers who had no idea of where to go.”
One of the travellers, Patrick, said: “We’ve been in Cambridge a long time. A lot of our kids go to school here.”
Four bailiffs sitting in a black Ford Tourneo Custom van on the site declined to say who they worked for. Asked how long they intended to stay, one replied: “As long as we need to be.”
Beverley invoked the age-old question of human rights.
“Human rights are what we keep bringing up in court,” she said. “They can’t go to school if they keep getting evicted. Through Freedom of Information we have established that there have been 11 evictions in Cambridge since April, though most travellers go before the eviction happens. In Cambridge travellers are the biggest minority and the most discriminated against. The stress levels are huge for the families involved.
“We are calling for a transit site to stop this suffering.”
The call for a transit site was repeated by Labour councillor Gerri Bird, who said: “What we need for Travellers that need to close to Cambridge for family, health or other reasons are proper council-run pitches. It is needed for their human rights. We need pitches near Addenbrooke’s for those very reasons. In 2012 Cambridge City Council and South Cambs agreed to jointly bid for a grant to provide this. We were awarded £500k to buy land for pitches in South Cambs where land is cheaper to provide a joint facility. In eight years nothing has been done. I want South Cambs to act now, buy the land and build the pitches.”
A Cambridge City Council spokesperson said: “The council has, along with partner organisations, sought to work with the traveller group during their occupation of Coldham’s Common, including providing clean drinking water, rubbish disposal and toilets, as well as offering referrals to other essential services including healthcare. However, the site is unsuitable for long-term occupation and, having sought to work with the travellers to agree a moving date, we have now acted to seek possession of the land and to enforce a magistrates’ court decision of the 17th August.
“This is in response to a recent incident and increased reports of anti-social behaviour including fly tipping and driving at speed on the common, putting other people in danger. The council has acted proportionately and reasonably whilst managing the needs of the travellers and that of the neighbouring community. Throughout we have worked closely with colleagues from Public Health, and delayed action whilst claims of Covid infection were investigated.
“Advice on self-isolation to protect both travellers and surrounding communities was given, and on-site testing was arranged but declined. No positive tests have been linked with the group and we are not aware of any delays affecting any local testing sites.”
Cambridge City Council does not have any transit sites within the city.
“There are both transit and long-stay traveller sites available in other districts,” said a spokesperson for the council.
A wider plan for transit sites is currently in discussion, says Alistair Wilson, streets and open spaces development manager at Cambridge City Council.
“We earlier this year commissioned an Accommodation Assessment along with neighbouring councils - Cambridge City Council, East Cambridgeshire District Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council, Peterborough City Council, Fenland District Council, Huntington District Council, West Suffolk District Council and the Borough Council of Kings Lynn and West Norfolk. This study will inform the preparation of Local Plans to allocate sites for gypsies, travellers, travelling showpeople and boat dwellers/traveller, including transit sites.”