Traveller debate rages after camp ’causes Southend chaos’

THE travelling communities have long been controversial. Opinions are still divided over how unauthorised camps should be dealt with and where best to build appropriate sites.

The issue was relit after a large unauthorised camp pitched up at the Rendezvous Casino car park at Southend’s Kursaal, on the seafront.

Traders and business leaders claim the camp residents caused chaos and forced them to close – but some faced a backlash for criticising the traveller community.

The owners of Adventure Inside, Sealife Adventure and Adventure Island issued an apology in a Facebook post which said Southend had been “invaded” by travellers. They faced a backlash after stating it closed due to a “traveller invasion.”

It comes as other traders slammed the group for leaving mess at the car park – including chair, tables, bottles and also, reportedly, human waste.

But Father Dan Mason, National Catholic Chaplain for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers pointed out people are too quick to slam all travellers, while the wider issue of appropriate sites is not being addressed.

He said: “It’s important to recognise we are talking about different communities with different cultures and traditions. There is a big issue with all travellers, gypsy, and roma people being tarred with the same brush.

“There are some who are not angels but that’s the same with people in more settled communities too. They get upset when people suggest some crimes are only committed by travellers, such as flytipping.

“One major issue is the lack of appropriate sites and in Leeds the council has a negotiated a system where the authority finds groups a temporary place for travellers to stay when a camp arrives at an inappropriate spot.

“This means rather than the council and police having to serve a section 61 notice, which is lengthy and expensive, the council finds a better place for them temporarily and it saves money and reduces issues.

“It does rely on trust between the traveller communities, the council and police too – but I’d like to see our councils in Essex consider this and I think it could work here too.”

Mr Mason said travellers face many issues such as prejudice and often are forced to hide their identities due to fears of this. He also said the Covid-19 pandemic also hit the communities hard.

He said: “Many lost access to basic amenities such as leisure centres where they would wash and the communities also face financial hardship too. I am concerned about this and also health and education – as much as spiritual issues.”

Paul Thompson, boss of Pebbles One Cafe, Baskin Robbins and Spar on Southend seafront said: “The stench at the car park is unbelievable. They must have been urinating and leaving human waste in bushes and around the area. It’s not on and not good for residents living by this area.

“We suffered when they were abusing staff and now it’s the aftermath of them being here with the mess and there’s also fears of them coming back too.

“There are some travellers who behave well and abide by the law – we welcome anyone to Southend to abides by the law, it has nothing to do with race or anything like that.”

Echo | News