Tomorrow, Cardiff stages the first events of the Olympic Games 2012. Sitting here watching the Olympics security operation and the logo-clad lamp-posts, it would be extremely difficult to forget about the sporting spectacle that is about to be unleashed on the UK. The world media’s cameras are firmly pointed at London for the next few weeeks but there is a hidden story that most athletics-enthusiasts will miss this summer.
During the Dale Farm eviction and its aftermath, the public and media have often debated where Gypsies and Travellers should live, rarely reaching any meaningful conclusions. The problem generally centres around these communities struggling to achieve planning permission to legally pitch their trailers. But what happens when Gypsies and Travellers already have planning permission and own land that Councils wish to use for other purposes? Compulsory Purchase Orders.
The Olympic village today sits on a site that was, until 2005, called Clays Lane. Back in Singapore, 2005, when London was read out as the host for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games there was no immediate connection to what this would mean for this forgotten area of London. In time, it meant that the Gypsy site at Clays Lane was bought by Compulsory Purchase Order and the family forced to live in a gigantic building site for years. The family was eventually given a new site in Newham but only after successive delays and impacts on health.
Lisa, one of the former Clays Lane residents said, “We’ve been four and a half years now living on Europe’s biggest building site. I’m 36, and I feel 100. I’m out of breath. Two minutes after you’ve cleaned it’s dusty again. Kids round here have developed asthma. The stress has been unbelievable. Just for two weeks of sport. I was happy about London getting the Olympics, but we haven’t been treated right as a community. They wouldn’t have done it to any other people. No-one’s even offered us a free ticket.”
Even now, these families have only been given temporary planning permission at their new location. That’s on a site which the residents say wasn’t built to a decent standard. These families had a home, a permanent home, which was taken away from them. The Olympics 2012 has cost the UK taxayer £9 billion but no-one thought to find these families somewhere to stable to live as part of that huge budget.
Time and again, especially during a recession, families are told that there simply isn’t the budget to provide the amount of Gypsy or Traveller sites required. That is despite the fact that you can house families cheaper on sites than you can in bricks and mortar; that the cost of building sites is less than clearing and policing illegal encampments; or that billions can be found for the right kind of expenditure. The lack of sites is not a finance issues, it is a policy decision.
I am hopeful that the Welsh Government’s proposed Housing Bill, with its duty on local authorities to provide Gypsy and Traveller sites, will start to arrest this policy but only time will tell. If you’re able to respond to the Welsh Government’s consultation on this bill, please do so here.
To find out more about the Clays Lane site from the residents who lived there, you can read this New Statesman blog from last week.