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Reactions to council’s new proposals on van dwellers

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The draft plans, which outline greater enforcement powers, receives mixed reactions.

This year has seen the issue of people living in vans on city streets make headlines, and Bristol is a hot spot. The Greenbank site has become a contentious issue among residents, van dwellers and local politicians.

Yesterday, the Bristol Cable revealed that the the council has put together a draft policy on live-in vehicles which includes greater enforcement powers and partnering with police to move van dwellers on. The move has prompted debate from van dwellers and housed residents before the policy is even officially released.

Van dwellers criticise process

Lydia (not her real name) lives in a van on Greenbank View. She says that the policy seems to be written without input from van dwellers themselves, claiming the policy will just be “about how to make Greenbank go away”, and will not address any deeper issues.

There was survey of van dwellers due to take place in May but it’s since been cancelled. Instead there is going to be an online consultation with some engagement events from 18 June.

“If the policy is based on angry residents who are obviously against van dwellers then it’s clearly going to be punitive”

“It’s just a way for [the council] to look like they’re doing stuff for our needs and look like they’re paying attention to who we are and what we want, “ she says. “If the policy is based on angry residents who are obviously against van dwellers then it’s obviously going to be punitive.”

The council is offering a site at Avonmouth as a temporary location for vehicles to move onto. However, many have already rejected the offer, saying that it will not meet their needs.

The claims that the policy has lacked van dwellers input is contested by the council. A council spokesperson said that the draft policy was drafted “based on conversations with relevant parties and government guidance”. Bristol City Council’s cabinet lead for housing, Paul Smith, also insists that the consultation – which will involve drop-in events – will allow everyone involved to have their say.

Lydia was skeptical of the consultation having an impact on what the final policy is going to involve: “Maybe [the draft] is a really rough sketch but it does seem like if they have already written the policy. It does seem like they already think they know what they’re doing.”

Residents pleased action being taken

Residents in houses in the streets affected are pleased that the council is taking action. St Werburghs resident Hugh Holden says that there isn’t enough roadspace for everybody and that a policy is “long overdue”.

“There are a lot of people round here living in vans. It is a very small area. Even though house prices are rising, it isn’t an affluent area. Something has got to give,” he said.

“I’ve got to the point where I’m a bit ‘nimbyish’ about it”

Jane (not her real name), another St Werburghs resident, says she feels like she’s “living in a caravan park sometimes. And that’s to do with the sheer number of the vehicles”.

“I suppose the problem is that I don’t mind a few but I don’t want 20. At one point there were about 16 on Minto road, and it’s just too much.

“There is a housing crisis, and I work as a social worker – I have to deal with people who are homeless – and I think it’s a real issue which is why I feel a bit conflicted about it,” she says. “But I’ve got to the point where I’m a bit ‘nimbyish’ about it as well. It doesn’t sit comfortably with me really because it’s not part of my value system.”

Councillors blame the housing crisis

Local politicians have previously been keen to blame the housing crisis for the issue, but stated that action needed to be taken nonetheless. Paul Smith, cabinet lead for housing, says the government is to blame for the housing crisis which has been the background to the issue of van dwelling, and he’s sympathetic about the needs of homeless or insecurely housed people.

“What we often face is that government policies around welfare have meant that we’re dealing with hundreds of people who are homeless every year… the council’s expected to mop up the mess that the government leaves,” he says, adding that last year the council dealt with 773 people sleeping rough on the street and more than a thousand who were assessed as statutory homeless.

Local councillors also pointed the finger at the government. “As the housing crisis gets worse and worse, we’re seeing more of this,” said Green councillor for Ashley, Jude English.

Likewise, Labour councillor for Easton, Ruth Pickersgill said, “We have to be clear this is a direct result of the government’s housing policy.

“Rents in Easton have soared, making private renting impossible for so many local people, house prices have rocketed and few council houses have been able to be built – options are running out for people on really low incomes – that is why we have so many people who are street homeless, or living in tents and vans.

“Easton is a diverse and tolerant area where people feel they will be accepted and included – but the situation needs to be managed properly.”

Will you be affected by the council’s Draft Policy for Vehicle Encampments? Get in touch content@thebristolcable.org

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