1,000 signatures reached
To: Bristol City Council
Bristol City Council to Support and Respect the Rights of Van Dwellers
We, the undersigned, call upon Bristol City Council to reconsider their approach to their proposed Vehicle Dwelling Encampment Policy.
While we acknowledge anti-social behaviour has been a problem among some vandwellers, much of what is considered “anti-social” could be remedied with the provision of waste collection facilities, the promotion of a better understanding of alternative lifestyles and a more negotiated approach to managing encampments (see Leeds “negotiated stopping” policy).
There are concerns that many reports of ASB that would lead to the enactment of the proposed policy would stem from discriminatory sentiments, which should be tackled rather than accommodated by the council.
Academics have already expressed concerns about how “anti-social behaviour” has been interpreted with regards to travelling and van-dwelling communities, whose lifestyles go against the norm (e.g. Forester, 1999; CRE, 2006; Cemlyn et al, 2009; Clark & Taylor, 2014).
There is concern that the policy arguably represents, facilitates and supports discriminatory views towards vandwellers. Without adequate steps being taken to address this discrimination, the policy is extremely biased against the van-dwelling community.
This is particularly concerning considering the statements found on the decision pathway appear to have effectively undermined the lifestyle.
We reject the council’s statement that van-dwelling is inherently bad for health and well-being. This argument was put forward as a justification for not providing sites.
There is no evidence to support the council’s claim that van-dwelling is inherently bad for health.
In fact, existing research shows that poor public health and individual health experienced by vehicle dwelling communities is largely caused or amplified by discrimination, displacement and the lack of facilities and accommodation rather than the lifestyle itself (e.g. Hawes, 1997; Morris & Clements, 2002; Crawley, 2004; Greenfields & Brindley, 2016).
Research carried out on vandwellers in Bristol last year also demonstrated many benefits associated with van-dwelling as an alternative to conventional housing (McAllister Kemp, 2018; Craft, 2018).
The benefits of site provision have also been illustrated to have improved community cohesion, and reduced economic and social costs associated with unauthorised encampments. (For example, see: Morris & Clements, 2002; Niner, 2006; Dept. for Local Communities and Government, 2007; Richardson, 2007; Richardson & Codona, 2016). Benefits of site provision were also uncovered in a study based on a site of vandwellers in Bristol (Craft, 2018).
The Welsh Government has also recognised the virtues of site provision (Welsh Government, 2018).
Moreover, while we acknowledge that some vandwellers have been disruptive to others, this does not permit an approach that is based on the (mis)understanding that van-dwelling is inferior to conventional housing.
Nor is it morally (or economically) acceptable to waste time and resources pushing people into bricks and mortar against their will, especially in the face of a severe housing crisis.
It appears contradictory for the council to acknowledge the “push” factors from the housing crisis and then plan to push van-dwellers into housing.
It has also been considered that site provision could function as an alternative form of affordable housing, which is worth consideration here (Dept. for local communities and government, 2007).
We also ask BCC to reconsider what they mean by “more sustainable housing.” Indeed, many vandwellers have chosen their lifestyle to escape the precarious and dissatisfactory state of conventional housing in Bristol (McAllister Kemp, 2018; Craft, 2018).
The mention of 12-month injunctions is also particularly concerning, as these practices have already been observed elsewhere in the UK and have been found to be problematic.
Lawyers have successfully resisted the introduction of several injunctions elsewhere in the UK when legal support was sought.
In response to this, we call for an approach that respects the van-dwelling lifestyle. We are calling for a policy that, instead of what has been proposed, focuses more on accommodation and provision than enforcement and assimilation.
References available on request (not enough space here).
Why is this important?
This petition represents a defence of the van-dwelling lifestyle. While the community is very diverse, and many have been pushed into the lifestyle in the face of the housing crisis, it remains a cultural choice and/or is of economic necessity for many van-dwellers whose lives revolve around this mode of dwelling.
It is also worth noting here that many people have been born into this lifestyle and wish to preserve their way of life and deserve respect for their cultural differences.
Councils have an obligation to promote equality and tackle discrimination. The policy is felt to be disproportionately aligned with the needs of one community – the “settled” community – at the expense of another: the van-dwelling community.