Evicting Travellers branded ‘anextraordinary waste of money’

Alex Seabrook reports from the Bristol Downs committee

The lord mayor of Bristol has questioned whether a large group of people staying in caravans on the Downs last month should have been evicted. They later left for two other parks in Bristol, before leaving the city altogether.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Andrew Varney, the new lord mayor, said the eviction at the Downs, which took place on June 5, was an “extraordinary waste of money”. There are now calls for a review into how the handling of the encampments could have been improved.

The group of Travellers first set up on the Downs at the start of the month. After being evicted, they moved to Horfield Common and Eastville Park, before being evicted from there too. However, Cllr Varney questioned the evictions at the Downs committee meeting.

He said: “They weren’t planning on staying around for long anyway, so it does seem like an extraordinary waste of money. It seems as though there’s no point pushing the problem from one place to another place. We do need a city-wide policy going forward.”

At the time of the encampments, Bristol City Council said that “high levels of anti-social behaviour and criminality” led to police taking action to move the group on. Residents reportedly said rocks had been thrown at toddlers on Horfield Common, while there were also reports of vandalism.

One reason the eviction took place so quickly on the Downs was due to a “possession order”, which was granted last year. 

According to Green Cllr Paula O’Rourke, this runs out at the end of summer, so any future encampments from this autumn onwards could be harder to evict.

She said: “The encampments happened last year in a sequence, where there was always somebody that was on the Downs. That allowed long enough for there to be a possession order granted. That possession order lasts until the end of August this year, which means an eviction was able to happen quite quickly.

“Now once that possession order runs out, we will be back to the old situation. We could get an injunction for a period of time, and I don’t know if that’s something we should investigate. We do need to properly have a review of what happened last week.

“The encampment of travellers only wanted to stay until Saturday or Sunday. Did we do the right thing in getting them evicted, so that they then went to two other parks in the city and caused that hassle, and then left on Saturday? When I was there, there were 15 enforcement officers and a high court eviction person. That didn’t come cheap.”

But the damage caused to the Downs, as well as the other two parks, was extensive. The option of not taking action was criticised by the new head of the Society of Merchant Venturers, a business group that is partly responsible for maintaining the Downs, along with the council.

Michael Bothamley, master of the Merchant Venturers, said: “I’m disturbed by the suggestion that we shouldn’t take immediate action when people are on the Downs because of the impact elsewhere.

“The fact of the matter is that the Travellers don’t have to stay very long to cause an enormous amount of damage, the spreading of waste, rubbish, human faeces and the rest.”