Should the arrival of travellers be met with disdain?

Credit: uknip / Alamy Stock Photo

Credit: uknip / Alamy Stock Photo - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

The issue of travellers provokes strong reactions on both sides of the argument, as was evidenced by a recent incursion in Hampshire

Should the arrival of travellers be met with disdain or should their way of life be more accepted? Hampshire opinion is divided.

In a tradition as old as the hills, travellers roam the highways, setting up camp on verges, in fields, and in some cases on private land. But their presence is a contentious issue that shows no sign of abating. Earlier this year travellers set up a 30-strong encampment in Eastleigh, having only been moved on from the town a month before, meaning this is an issue still very much at the forefront of minds locally.

On a national scale gypsies, to use the other acceptable name for them, hit the headlines in January when it was claimed that calling them ‘pikeys’ is the last ‘acceptable’ form of racism. Elsewhere in the news, traveller families spoke of being harassed by continual evictions and the loss of their human rights, whilst politicians and media have spoken in defence of communities reportedly invaded by ‘anti-social strangers’.

A 2004 report by campaign group Stonewall listed some common prejudices: “It was argued that these groups did not conform to the system by paying taxes, they had a reputation for unreliable business practices and they did not respect private property. They were also criticised… for not belonging to a community and allegedly having a negative impact on the environment: for example, they are unsightly, dirty or unhygienic.”

There are clearly two sides to this coin, but the fears in Eastleigh were crime rates and cleanliness, according to local residents. Borough councillor Wayne Irish said at the time: “We do our best to get them moved out.”

Meanwhile, trees were planted and earth bunds created on the land off Passfield Avenue, where travellers had set up camp a month before, as precautionary measures. In January £30,000 funding was approved for measures to prevent illegal encampments on Passfield Avenue, but the work was delayed by the second traveller encampment.

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An Eastleigh resident, who did not wish to be named, said: “When they were moved on from Passfield Avenue I saw two council vans and people were cleaning up the area, and I am guessing this is done with taxpayers’ money so it’s not good.”

Hampshire resident Sophie Ellis said: “I really don’t know why this always takes so long. If an average person parks in certain places they get a ticket and then towed, no questions asked.”

Another said: “They are of no use to anyone but themselves, contribute nothing and yet seem quite happy to attach themselves as parasites to the infrastructure of the places they so vehemently dislike in order to provide themselves with the means to continue their ‘travelling’ existence.”

Hampshire Police said there was no evidence to suggest that crime rates had changed since the group arrived in Eastleigh.

But local feeling on the issue remains strong, rightly or wrongly. Is government and local policing out of touch on this issue? Should they be more proactive?

Or in fact should we all be more understanding and accepting?


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