More than a thousand people turned up for a public meeting in Woodingdean to discuss potential tolerated sites for travellers.
The meeting had been due to take place in the community centre in Warren Road at 7pm on Friday (16 September).
It was called by Simon Kirby, the Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown, in response to concerns about Happy Valley being considered as a site where travellers might be tolerated.
An unauthorised camp was set up at the site off Falmer Road earlier in the year and prompted complaints about anti-social behaviour.
The community centre was full well in advance so Mr Kirby started the meeting at 6.45pm.
He intended to hold a second version of the meeting for those who were outside and unable to get in.
In the end he decided to take the microphone and speakers outside to give everyone in the estimated 1,500-strong crowd a chance to hear and speak.
Strength of feeling
Mr Kirby said: “We knew this was an issue that people felt strongly about in the local area.
“The numbers involved show the strength of feeling.
“I hope that the council listens to what was said and take it into account.”
Mr Kirby said that he had urged Brighton and Hove City Council to rule out Happy Valley from its considerations and planned consultation about sites for travellers.
The council has so far not ruled out any sites nor has it named the sites that are to be the subject of an impending consultation.
Travellers have set up unauthorised camps in a number of parks and open spaces around Brighton and Hove since Easter – as they have done in previous years.
The sites include Sheepcote Valley and East Brighton Park, Wild Park, 19 Acre Field off Devil’s Dyke Road, Greenleas Recreation Ground in Hangleton and Benfield Valley in Portslade.
Withdean Park, Woollard’s Field and Ladies Mile in Patcham have also been used as temporary camps.
Mr Kirby said that he had received a lot of positive feedback for calling the meeting at which he handed out comment cards – until he ran out.
He is collating the comments handed in by constituents in addition to those emailed to him over the past few months on the issue of travellers.
He also handed out copies of a letter and invited those who agreed to send it to Green council leader Bill Randall and council chief executive John Barradell.
Mr Kirby was joined at the meeting by fellow Conservative MP Mike Weatherley, who represents Hove. Conservative councillors Mary Mears, Geoff Wells, David Smith and Dawn Barnett attended.
Geoff Raw, the strategic director of place at Brighton and Hove City Council, was one of three council officers to take part in the meeting. He was joined by Nick Hibberd, head of housing and social inclusion, and Rob Fraser, head of planning strategy.
One person at the meeting said: “The council officials didn’t get the warmest of receptions but by and large people listened to what they had to say.”
Sussex Police was also represented by Inspector Bill Whitehead.
Mr Kirby said: “Happy Valley is completely inappropriate as a potential site for a permanent or tolerated travellers site.
“It would make good sense to rule out it out now before any list is even drawn up for consultation.”
Mr Kirby intends to make further representations to the council and police in light of the feedback from the meeting and to keep up the pressure until Happy Valley is ruled out.