Drainage work at Brighton’s new traveller site is now back on track after problems drilling under the A27, councillors were told yesterday.
Work to build 13 new permanent pitches at the site in Horsdean is dependent on being able to connect the toilet blocks to the sewer in Vale Avenue, via a tunnel underneath the bypass.
But after the first few attempts to bore a hole failed, it was feared this might push the costs of the project, which has already soared from £1.7m to £2.4m, up even more.
The drainage is particularly sensitive as environmental campaigners believe the site is directly above a man-made adit – or tunnel – that collects water drawn by the Patcham pumping station.
The issue was raised during a discussion of the council’s traveller strategy at yesterday’s environment, transport and sustainability committee.
Patcham ward councillor and Conservative group leader Geoffrey Theobald said: “As I understand it there are quite a few problems drilling under the carriageway and this could well be costing more money and putting the site back.
“At the moment, you’ve had two or three goes drilling under the A27 as I understand it, and there are a lot of problems.”
But chair of the committee, Labour Cllr Gill Mitchell said: “Yes, there has been a problem drilling. The last I heard they are on track for June last year, there’s no reason to suppose they won’t open then.
“The problem has been overcome, or shall I say bored through.”
Conservative Cllr Tony Janio asked for confirmation that the borehole problems had not put the project over budget, and was told he would be given the answer in a separate briefing with the council’s head of regeneration Nick Hibberd.
The meeting also discussed the council’s search for new traveller sites which is due to start next year after an independent assessment carried out in accordance with national policy found the area needed to provide 32 new pitches by 2019.
A council officer explained: “It is a requirement of national policy to produce a gypsy and traveller assessment. We have to demonstrate whether we can meet that requirement. That will be a search site exercise.
“It might be the case that we can’t meet that requirement in full, but we do need to undertake that exercise to show that we are unable to make it, and then we can see whether there are opportunities with other local authorities to meet that requirement.
“In Brighton and Hove we do have particular constraints for sites. A lot of them aren’t acceptable in terms of topography and access. Other areas might have more potential, including the national park authority.”
Also at issue was the fly-tipping associated with many unauthorised camps. Rachel Chasseaud, the council’s head of tenancy services, said: “It is a problem and as you know there are high costs to the city of removing waste. We do speak to trespassers about the cost and how it affects community relations.
“With travellers from Brighton and Hove, we tend to be more successful, but we rarely have encampment just with those groups.
“The great difficulty for us is evidence, linking fly-tipping to a person or persons. We have had some successful prosecutions, but not many compared to the amount fly-tipped.
“Cityclean is looking at measures we can take to make travellers on unauthorised camps more accountable for their own rubbish.
“It is a difficult problem and something that when we meet regularly we discuss and we see it as a difficult problem. We are trying to work on it.”
She also addressed the question of whether Brighton could direct travellers to the East Sussex traveller site at Bridie’s Tan near Lewes, saying that while desirable, the council would need to ask the Government to change the law.
She said: “It would be fantastic if we could go outside the city. Bridie’s Tan is just five miles along the road, it is frustrating when we have unauthorised encampments and that’s empty. But it is a national legislative change.”
Green councillor Pete West called for more understanding of the traveller community. He said: “How we engage with travellers about being respectful. We do, but it’s very difficult when they’re so marginalised and part of that is being evicted quite often.
“It’s difficult to build up rapport and ask them to show a greater sense of care towards the local population when they feel so roughly treated by the situation. I think we have to be mindful of what we can expect in those circumstances
“They absolutely need to have more proper provision. Everything we look at, the cost of clearing up, the impact on local communities, the lack of respect and cohesiveness all this creates, the only answer is to provide more proper places.
It’s extremely frustrating that this has taken so long. It’s equally a nightmare that a temporary site was rejected by the planning committee so that we have no provision whatsoever.
“Thirty-two pitches are required in the future and I hope we have a much more positive response to that need in the future.”
Cllr Peter Atkinson, Labour, said a recent camp at Hangleton Bottom showed why it was unsuitable as a temporary site as it had caused concern to so many surrounding people. He said: “There wasn’t a problem on the site until the first group of travellers were joined by a group of New Travellers whose betaviour was completely unacceptable.
“The New Travellers are difficult, if not impossible to engage with at times. They won’t give their names, they’re quite hostile and we do have to consider the safety of our council staff at times. ”
But fellow Labour councillor Alan Robins, whose dad was a gypsy, said: “These people are real people. We tend to talk about them, and not to them. Even now, how many of us as councillors have actually spoken to them? We’re told that some of them are residents, they never leave the city.
“I would hope that we could in some way engage with them as with any other group in the city, as councillors, as people, but we don’t seem to want to do this. We hope to do it through a third party and hope that the officers and police will do it for us.”
Cllr we haven’t got the information here, it’s a major project
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