One trend bucking service that has experienced increased demand is the Traveller Liaison Team, who manage the evictions of the City’s Nomadic population. Although evictions cost between £1,000 and £10,000 a time, they have upped their eviction rate from two a year to every fortnight, and doubled their office staff numbers from three to six. But the hard-working Team’s redoubled efforts have been demanded by Central Government, not locals, so it’d be a shame if Brighton’s taxpayers still had to pay for it.
Under the previous Government councils were urged to tolerate unauthorised camps of Nomads if, as at Brighton, there were no sites. And if there were no sites, the council should provide some, as they would for settled people; “The accommodation needs of all Gypsies and Travellers, including new travellers and travelling showpeople, should be identified, understood and addressed through the planning framework and housing strategy on the same basis as other sectors of the community.”
Brighton’s Nomads are chiefly from two groups; Irish Travellers and Hippies, the latter dubbed ‘New Age Travellers’ and ‘Peace Convoy’ by the media in the 1980’s. Hippies live in both vehicles and caravans often with solar panels and chimneys. There are approximately 70 Hippies based around Brighton in several groups, many of whom work in the City, and at the present time all of Brighton’s Hippies are homeless. These numbers have remained stable over the last decade.
In August 2013 the new Conservative Communities Secretary MP Eric Pickles issued a statement replacing the previous advice, urging local authorities to action. “The summary of legal powers sent direct to all council leaders and published online shows how councils can act quickly. It sets out the robust powers councils and landowners now have to remove unauthorised traveller sites, protest camps and squatters...”
The Conservative Party – the party of landowners – has had a hostile relationship with the Hippies since a series of mass squats in the seventies including Windsor and Stonehenge Free Festivals (estimated 50-100,000 people in 1984), which culminated in police “mayhem” at the so called “Battle of the Beanfield” in 1985. The Police, fresh from fighting rioting miners, “smash” the Peace Convoy, in an action that 30 years on is still acknowledged as deeply flawed.
The Hippies were viewed by the paranoid Thatcher Government as a mobile, organised, politicised force working to undermine the government over issues of land, liberty and taxation; moving freely between the coal miner’s picket lines, the poll-tax protests, and Greenham Peace Camp, squatting or ‘reclaiming’ neglected and Common land, outwitting and humiliating the police. Unfortunately, and despite good intelligence to the contrary, they were not understood rather more realistically as an experiment in sustainable community, complete with women, men, children, cats, dogs, chickens and homes, increasingly desperate for somewhere to live, including protest camps.
Then they were herded into a field and violently assaulted by riot hardened police, the majority of their vehicles/homes left unrepairable, their children traumatised. Which goes some way to explain Home Secretary Douglas Hurd’s concerns the following year over “the immense policing difficulties created by the peace convoy, [which] resembles nothing more than a band of medieval brigands who have no respect for the law…’ Maybe he was thinking of the Outlaw of Sherwood?
So given that we have a Conservative government, it may come as no surprise to learn that of the big three Nomad traditions in the UK; Irish, Gypsy, and Hippy, it is the ethnically British Hippies who have been most hurt by the current reversal in ‘Traveller’ policy. Councilor Pete West of BHCC said: “Adding 12 new permanent pitches should help to free up transit pitches and manage unauthorized encampments and their impact on parks and communities.” One wonders how. At best the twelve new pitches will house one sixth of the semi-permanent resident Hippies, and the evictions will continue unabated for the rest. At least now we know why the Traveller Liaison team needed more staff – twice the work, twice the money, I’m glad somebody’s seeing the benefit.