Brighton MP speaks out about travellers, protesters and party houses

Posted On 15 Jun 2011 at 1:44 pm

Simon Kirby, the Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown, initiated a House of Commons debate today about unathorised travellers’ sites and houses being used for commercial parties.

He said: “In recent weeks constituents have become increasingly concerned about the influx of travellers into Brighton, creating unauthorised encampments, and the attitude of the new city council’s Green administration to this issue.

“Allied to this, there has been a ‘tent-city’ style protest against Spanish austerity  organised by the so-called Real Democracy campaign on the historic Old Steine in Brighton.

“This has not been moved on by the police and in fact is welcomed  by the Greens as the kind of peaceful protest they would like to see.

Council repairs

“Furthermore, we have seen a number of houses in the Ovingdean and Roedean areas of my constituency being used as so-called ‘party houses’, where former homes in residential streets are turned into the equivalent of nightclubs for 24-hour partying over the weekends.

“As you can imagine none of this sits well with law-abiding constituents who pay their taxes and obey the rules.

“Brighton has been a magnet for travellers for many years.

Annoyed

“However, previous administrations that have run the council have created a site for travellers in the Horsdean area of Brighton, which was refurbished by the recently departed Conservative administration, and which is located in the constituency of the Honourable Member for Brighton Pavilion – yet this has not stemmed the flow of travellers appearing in the area.

“When they do arrive, traveller groups set up unauthorised encampments wherever the mood seems to take them and this can be on either publicly owned land (often owned by the city council) or on a privately owned land, such as a field.

“Residents then get annoyed and phone the police or the council.

“The council and police are supposed to work together on this matter but often there appears to be delay while the legally mandated ‘welfare checks’ are carried out and whilst consideration is given to seeking an order for the travellers to move under section 61 of the Public Order Act.

“Meanwhile, as happened recently in the Happy Valley area of my constituency, I receive, as do the police and the council, allegations of damage, fouling and abusive behaviour towards the settled community.

“When this happened, I asked for evidence to be found to prove the allegations but it seems to be a common theme whenever unauthorised encampments appear.

“What is the result? Often it is that local taxpayers, that is, those who may have had their way of life disrupted by the creation of an unauthorised encampment, then have to pay through their local taxes to make right the damage that has been caused and to clear the refuse that has built up.

Costs

“In the last three years, figures from Brighton and Hove City Council show, that costs of around £233,000 have been incurred to simply clear up unauthorised encampments.

“This money has to be raised at a time of general restraint of public expenditure when residents would like more of their money spent on parks, libraries and grass cutting.

“In addition, as I mentioned earlier, the previous Conservative-led council spent some £160,000, again no mean sum in local government terms, on refurbishing the travellers site that had been built some ten years or so before.

“A further site is being explored at present but no decision has yet been taken on its location.

“Further, I understand that the traveller team’s annual budget is £310,000.

“Often criticism like this is cited as nimbyism, or worse, racism. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

“What people in my constituency complain about, and I suspect in other honourable members’ constituencies as well, is not that people should not be able to lead their lives in their own way but that in so doing they do not create a cost and inconvenience for others.

“In the case of unauthorised encampments in Brighton, there is a cost involved because of the lifestyle of others.

Green light

“Constituents tell me that they feel that the new Green-led city council has given the green light to travellers to create unauthorised encampments in the city.

“The comments of a lead councillor who said that a group of travellers had ‘reluctantly’ been asked by the council to be moved on, does not imply a willingness to see fewer rather than more encampments in Brighton.

“To be fair, I understand following discussions with senior officers in the council that the policy has not changed in terms of moving travellers off unauthorised encampments as soon as possible, yet the tone of public statements by the Greens sends a very different message.

“We shall see who is right, when a large group of travellers leaves Essex in the near future.

“Where will they go?

“To a council that is not sympathetic, or one, by the statements of its senior figures, that appears to be?

“The Greens have set a dangerous precedent by their public attitude and comments and residents are genuinely worried at what may be about to be visited upon them in terms of nuisance and cost.

“I mentioned in my introductory remarks that a further type of unauthorised encampment has been created on the historic Old Steine area of Brighton.

“This is a large open, grassy  area close to the seafront with a café and a fountain.

“It is possible to see the pier from the Steine and it is a favourite attraction for residents and visitors alike.

Tent city

“Several weeks ago, several people, protesting on the eve of the Spanish elections, regarding the austerity measures having to be taken in that country, decided to create a tent city on the Old Steine.

“They had a very happy time, banging drums, writing their protest placards and creating a focus for world revolution.

“Yet the reality is, their camp was unauthorised.

“They are now moving on but still believe it is their right to re-occupy the area whenever they choose.

“We know how permanent so-called temporary tent cities can become because we have one across the road from this very Palace.

“Many constituents rightly argue to me that if a group of protesters is allowed to set up a camp like this and, crucially, are not moved on by the police, then why can’t they, with a group of friends, take their caravans to the Steine and make a holiday camp for themselves?

“The only difference seems to be that one group has placards decrying the democratic processes which allow dissent and protest, and one does not.

“There is no excuse for long-term tent cities like this.

Vigorous

“We have a vigorous Parliament, where the issues of global economic trends, the management of national debt, who is responsible for the recent recession and how we may move forward, are debated daily.

“The local council in Brighton allows residents to bring petitions, ask questions and trigger debate in council if enough people sign a petition on a particular issue or subject.

“There is no lack of opportunity for debate and there is no excuse for tent cities in Brighton.

“If I may be slightly critical of public authorities in Brighton, this tent city protest should not have been allowed to take place for the length of time that it has.

“Like London, Brighton has seen many protests in the last year against the coalition government’s policies, although the alternatives seem remarkably thin in coming forward.

“Locally, we have seen private property vandalised, people’s lives disrupted and for a place that thrives on the tourist trade, the potential of damage to a staple industry.

“There is a long won right to protest, we understand that, but the protesters do nobody any good, especially those who are seeking to earn their living in Brighton, if they frighten people away from the city or make it ever harder to do business there.

“We have seen a report already that a business is moving back to London because it does not want its trading disrupted any further.

“How does encouraging jobs out of the city help those who are economically disadvantaged within it?

“Of course, it doesn’t, it has precisely the reverse effect.

“Those who rely on the taxes of others to fund their public service work need to remember that creating and, most importantly, maintaining the best conditions for business is the best way to keep taxes flowing in to support their work.

Party houses

“I would also like to briefly mention ‘party houses’.

“These are homes generally in quiet residential areas, often three of four bedroomed properties, that are let out for hen and stag parties and which are then used to sleep around 20 people.

“This can lead to three days of non-stop partying until the early hours.

“This disturbs residents who are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their homes, destroys the amenity of an area, and creates a further sense of flouting the rules by which most sensible communities live.

“If you choose to live in the centre of Brighton, then you can expect noise and disturbance.

“If you choose to live in an area which is mainly residential you should be able to expect to be able go about your business with peace and quiet.

“Some roads in my constituency now have more than one party house located within them.

“The previous leader of the council held a roundtable discussion with council officers, the police and fire authority representatives to see what can be done about this issue.

“What she heard was that essentially the hands of public authorities seem tied.

“This cannot be right.

“I hope when the minister replies he will acknowledge the discomfort and nuisance caused to existing residents of Brighton by the various incoming groups I have described.

Rights

“In summing up, I want to urge the minister to consider the following.

“On travellers, we need to strengthen the powers of the police to move on travellers much more quickly than now.

“There should be clear guidelines as to when the police must act and those guidelines must err on the side of protecting the property and amenity rights of the settled population.

“The issue of mandatory welfare checks needs to be urgently reviewed as well as does the level of resources local authorities need to undertake the work required when traveller incursions take place.

“On protest camps, the law of trespass needs to be firmly enforced.

“Again, the police must be given clear instructions on how to handle these kinds of situations.

“What is the point of operational independence for the police if the law appears to be suspended for certain groups in society?

“Finally, on party houses, I believe we need an amendment to the Localism Bill, which is now in the other place (the House of Lords), to give local authorities more powers when homes are clearly being used for commercial purposes not recognised as reasonable such as renting to families or individuals or being used for quiet purposes such as having a small home office.

“People in Brighton tell me they have had enough of their lives being disrupted by outside groups who use the city for their own ends.

“The settled majority have rights as well.

“They are looking to this Parliament to uphold those rights.”

  1. Julian Wadey Reply

    Welldone to Simon Kirby it’s about time somebody spoke out on this issue and particular good to see our member of Parliament is fighting for us on the sort of issues for which we voted for him…welldone Simon..and thankyou.

  2. Peter Harland Reply

    Thank you Simon for taking this up on our behalf. I feel….in fact know that it is extremely important and that these issues are high on the agenda of many that don’t necessarily speak up. I can assure you that these issues are ones that are often discussed ‘at the school gates’, so to speak and often with comments on the lines of ‘nobody listens (or does anything) anyway’.

    Sorting out some of this nonsense is long overdue. Personally I would like to see zero tolerance to all such activities and an end to attitudes of reluctance to challenge head on situations, just because they may be difficult to address purely based on the number of the perpetrators. That statement will be challenged, but is also a fact that I will stand by.

    As for legally mandated welfare checks. Who is it that creates the situation that is making them necessary in the first place? At what point is personal responsibility being considered? While it may be necessary for moral reasons (and part of law) to carry out such checks, should the actual responsibility to ensure ones own welfare not be considered? In the case of children, should there not be a process to deal with the responsible adults that allow any failure for this?

    My comments are focused on travellers of course, but I applaud you for the whole initiative. Thanks again

  3. paul pawlowski Reply

    Had round-the-clock permanent camp in front of the Palace of Westminster succeeded to spread FREEDOM and DEMOCRACY to TianAnMen Square – china communist tanks fire at non violent real democracy people – Simon Kirby MP would be happy about it
    – but ‘freedom and democracy ‘ failed to spread to beijing lhasa pyongyang – now talk
    close unsightly tents camp in front of the Palace of Westminster

    my protest is Sundays noon to 4pm in Parliament Square holding placard
    Hereditary Dictator please step down
    let England be a REPUBLIC

    paul pawlowski, Keeper
    Muzeum Sczytaja
    406 days to Flower on 3 stones HOLOCAUST Altar for Apollo
    London Holy Games in Honour of Apollo

  4. Clive Reply

    “When this happened, I asked for evidence to be found to prove the allegations but it seems to be a common theme whenever unauthorised encampments appear.”

    So has this evidence actually been forthcoming Mr Kirby? Or are you acting on rumour?

    I find this highly suspect. We now have a council run by non-Tories and suddenly this is, according Mr Kirby, a huge problem. There will always be travellers, just as there were before the May elections when Kirby’s mates were running ths show. I don’t see any postitive suggestions of addition sites here either.

    I notice that in raising the party house stuff he doesn’t mention his role as a former night club promoter and pub chain owner. Funny, that.

  5. Peter Reply

    Clive

    I will not get into one with you, but do have to respond to your comments on this occasion. I have contacted Mr Kirby as my MP, others within the council locally and the police and have provided photographic evidence of the unsavoury, antisocial and illegal activities of travellers when encampments have been local to me. These have been encampments that have impacted mine and others usage of facilities that we as law abiding council tax payers pay for and of course belong to us.

    These contacts have been ongoing since Mr Kirby was voted into his seat and he has been working on this since day one. It is only now that the situation has become ambiguous and of greater concern due to the new local balance of power that we are seeing this higher profile and greater urgency.

    I have no personal experience of the ‘party house stuff’ and maybe you would see it relevant that he should mention that he has experience in the entertainment and leisure field (legally of course!). I can see that it gives him an insight in one respect, but I would rather see his comments directed at the issues as they are and not waste extra words that would be of little value in pursuing concerns of his constituents.

    During his election campaign Mr Kirby did canvass my address and based on the grilling that I gave him, I did decide that is where my vote would be placed. I made it quite clear to him that I would be ‘on his case’ and would be expecting him to perform for ‘us’. If you take the trouble to look around a little you will find evidence of the work that he has been doing on our behalf. He seems to have taken on board concerns of his constituents on various issues, initiated from what I can only assume must be from communications from local people. So far ha is proving to be an excellent MP working not only on behalf of his own Kemp Town ward, but also working hard for the good of the whole of Brighton and Hove.

    I don’t know about others, but this is exactly what I want to see from the people that we vote into power to work for us. From my own perspective I shall continue to make contact about any issues that I see as they occur and anything else that I consider to be for the betterment of the good people of society as a whole. I will then continue to monitor ongoing performance and overall attitude.

  6. Clive Reply

    Peter
    Fair enough – you’ll notice that I phrased my reaction to this regarding evidence as a question. I do not mean to demean genuine problems of anti-social behaviour – I have suffered from this myself (from a flat-dwelling neighbour) and know how grim it can be.

    I’m glad to hear that you find Mr Kirby prompt and attentive. My MP is Mike Weatherley, and his office is also efficient. What I have found, however, is that if you question government policy you get what looks suspiciously like a standard letter, and a polite brush-off.

    It is very easy to criticse travellers, protesters and squatters – individuals who have very little power and influence (and this is not to deny the difficulties they can cause). But ask these MPs to challenge a powerful vested interest – by questioning the service provided by privatised companies, for example – and they tend to look for a big rock to hide behind.

  7. Peter Reply

    That is interesting Clive.

    There are lots of things I could ask about government policy if I were to think about it. I guess that unless it was something that I felt really passionate about and wanted to pursue vigorously I may consider that my voice is just too small. Is that the right/wrong attitude to take I wonder?

    I guess I can see that an almost standard government line response could be forthcoming, but that doesn’t mean that we as the electorate have to accept it of course. As said above, if it was something that I felt really strongly about, I would have to keep at it, maybe looking for support elsewhere as well??

  8. anonymous Reply

    Simon kirby might not like it but .. Travelers are like politicians they come and go but the effects last for ages .. Wild park is a terrible mess and now Stanmer park has 25 vehicles parked up there as of 3.15

  9. Paul Reply

    When travellers leave a sight, pull out all stops to prevent their revisit. EG, block enterance with huge rocks or dig a ditch …… both of these tactics are low cost. Remember they have tools to cut fencing and simply ignore sign posts…. Please note Ive tackled this situation before and it works.

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