Residents launch campaign to Respect the Downs
by Keri Beckingham
A FED-UP group of residents has lost patience with the lack of a robust response from the council over the increasing number of vehicles using the Downs as a campsite.
The ‘Respect The Downs’ group says that the rising number of semi-permanent van dwellers and traveller incursions on Clifton and Durdham Downs – and the apparently laissez faire attitude taken by the mayor and Bristol City Council towards their removal – has impacted huge numbers of residents and users of this part of Bristol during the last few years. The group says that inconsistent or non-enforcement of by-laws and council policies have directly contributed to the issue, and that the Downs now features as a free place to stay on camper van websites.
Respect The Downs plans to harness the growing levels of frustration felt by many of those who live near and/or use the Downs for the range of activities for which this part of Bristol is intended.
A spokesman for Respect The Downs said: “During the last few years, residents and users of the Downs have witnessed numerous incidents of anti-social, intimidating and in some cases outright dangerous behaviour from traveller encampments. These include littering, fly-tipping, defecating, emptying buckets of raw sewage into hedges and bushes and driving cars at speed on the Downs.
“The police are doing their best to respond to reports of such incidents but responsibility squarely lies with Bristol City Council to ensure the Downs is protected and maintained for its intended use.”
A resident added: “Why are police resources being wasted on dealing with the consequences of a grossly inefficient process to remove traveller encampments from the Downs? Why are van dwellers being allowed to game the currently inadequate parking restrictions that cover only a sub-set of the Downs? Bristol council tax payers seem to be the only users of the Downs who have to abide by the law!”
The group’s objectives include the extension and strict enforcement of five-hour restricted parking limit to all roads around the Downs and extension of the no-return time period and the introduction of a blanket “no overnight sleeping” Traffic Restriction Order that covers all roads on and around the Downs. They are also calling for modification of the council’s traveller management policy to re-balance residents’ rights with those of travellers and the provision of full transparency and accountability regarding their current traveller removal process, including the involvement of affected residents from the point of Impact Assessment through removal.
Respect The Downs will provide a ‘hub’ for up to date information about what is being done to expedite removal of any traveller camps and van dwellers that appear on the Downs. Additionally, it will act as a focal point for documenting and sharing any incidents of anti-social behaviour, harassment and intimidation. Supporters will be asked to provide details and photographs or video footage of any such incidents and to report all of these by calling 101.
The group says recent experience has demonstrated that increased volumes of resident complaints have a significant effect on the speed with which the council, and hence the police, take action. Avon & Somerset Police actively encourages such incidents to be reported, and the group has already engaged with council officers, the police and other organisations associated with the Downs and will use these links to ensure that all responsible parties are held to account.
To find out more about Respect The Downs and their campaign, visit: www.respectthedowns.co.uk
Councillor Paul Smith, the council's abinet member for housing, said: “In September, we adopted a new policy for dealing with different types of encampments, which takes into account the fact that rough sleeping and living in a vehicle can be very different circumstances, and for some people, vehicle dwelling is a life style choice.
“Enforcement action is taken when there have been significant public health and safety concerns, and we’re working closely with local community groups and the police to monitor the situation.
“We have a duty of care to everyone in the city and don’t believe that sleeping in a vehicle is necessarily a safe, long term option. Ultimately, we are committed to helping people find more sustainable housing options.”