Now one of the biggest issues that Surrey Heath will face in the next year or so is where to place 19 new gypsy and traveller pitches across the borough. Doing nothing is not an option here and nor is extending our current sites which are full.
So earlier this week, I went with a couple of our Council officers to have a look around one of our current gypsy and traveller sites. Surrey Heath have two official sites namely Kalima in Chobham and Swift Lane in Bagshot. Having already visited Kalima, it was Swift Lane this time to see what the site is like.
Our first visit was to a couple who I will call Mr and Mrs R. They were a delightful older couple proud of their culture and heritage. However, they were having a terrible problem with rats in their house. This was nothing to do with them (their caravan as with Gypsy and traveller culture was immaculate) but everything to do with the fact that Swift Lane is situated next to a large recycling site. It also turns out that the work toilets on site was only a few yards from their pitch and directly in view of their kitchen window and that some staff couldn’t even be bothered to shut the door when using.
Mr and Mrs R also had an outside wash facility and shower and it was obvious that this room would be very cold in winter and very inconvenient.
We spent some time swapping sporting stories and examples of the prejudice they face. After trying to encourage them to attend a gypsy forum in a few weeks, we left. Also on site was a young boy with probably the cutest dog you will ever see. Certainly our two Council officers wanted to take her home. The boy was quite chatty but perhaps a bit bored as there were no other kids his age on the site.
We tried to visit a few other residents who were either out or not answering. Other residents came up to the officers and had a quick chat as they saw them on site.It was good to see that this was friendly and open although as with other communities, some residents may have a less positive relationship.
Now it struck me that I wouldn’t live next to a recycling site so why do we expect gypsies and travellers to put up with rats and toilets? Instead, I often hear or receive e-mails from many people who seem happy to believe a load of general myths and prejudice without bothering to check the real problems faced by residents on a traveller site. Perhaps more people should visit themselves rather than relying on exaggerated newspaper reports and TV programmes…