Highbury site earmarked for Gypsy and Traveller pitches

Part of the Ronalds Road land which could be used for Gypsy and Traveller pitches

Part of the Ronalds Road land which could be used for Gypsy and Traveller pitches - Credit: Julia Gregory

The choice of a Highbury site for Gypsy and Traveller pitches has been criticised by some residents but welcomed by a family who said it would give them a chance to live according to their culture.

Islington Council has put forward a spot near the Roundhouse community centre in Ronalds Road after the planning inspector told it to come up with three suitable sites for six to ten pitches, having failed to include any in its new local plan.

Islington's head of planning policy, Sakiba Gurda, told residents at a meeting on July 22, organised by ward councillors, that finding sites is "incredibly difficult in a borough like ours”.

She added: “This site is the least constrained.”

She said the council is also looking at neighbouring boroughs to see if they have suitable sites.

The Ronalds Road site could provide homes for two to three households – most likely one extended family already living in Islington.

Part of the Ronalds Road land which could be used for Gypsy and Traveller pitches

Part of the Ronalds Road land which could be used for Gypsy and Traveller pitches - Credit: Julia Gregory

The land, which includes a vacant plot, known locally as Ron’s Yard, was originally earmarked by the council for affordable homes.

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The council’s planning team told a meeting of more than 90 residents, including a family hoping to move to the site, that it had looked at 60 possible sites.

Planners said most sites “had significant constraints”. Many would have “multiple angles” of overlooking from neighbours. Others were too small or access issues.

When challenged by the inspector to look again, it suggested Ronalds Road and two sites in Junction Road – one  is currently the home of the Shaolin Temple martial arts school and centre for study of Shaolin culture.

The council said if that site were approved it would have to find an appropriate new home for the martial arts school nearby.

It said the Ronalds Road site was “the best of a bad lot” of potential sites.

Some neighbours said they were angry that they were not told about the potential changes to the local plan quickly and that the consultation –initially due to end in August – was held at a time when many were away.

Ms Gurda said it did not modify the plan until late May.

Councillor Caroline Russell (Green) said 900 leaflets were hand delivered and that there was also a meeting with community groups.

Other residents said they wanted more information, such as site drawings.

A pitch could include a ground level building with a day room, kitchen and bathroom and space around it for a static or mobile homes for the extended family.

London Gypsies and Travellers policy and campaigns coordinator Ilinca Diaconescu said it would be a "small-scale development”.

She added: “Romany, Gypsy and Traveller people who are recognised as minority groups have been living in London and Islington and Highbury for many many generations.

"They are a vital role of the local communities and  have the same rights as everyone else to have their  accommodation needs met.”

She said there was never an authorised permanent residential base for the communities in Islington “and it’s a really positive step recognising the community needs”.

Islington resident Lisa Williams, who is from the Travelling community and whose family hopes to move onto the site said: “We’re all pushed into houses because there’s no sites.”

She described how her children “were pelted with bottles” which led to them “ending up in housing”.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that the site would  be for 10 to 12 people and said she would welcome neighbours learning more.

“Bricks and mortar have a really bad impact on our mental health,” she said.

Residents were concerned about any impact on the purpose-built new base for the Roundhouse community centre and the Islington Food Bank which uses part of the proposed site.

Islington planning director Karen Sullivan said the Roundhouse would not be negatively impacted.

The new Highbury Roundhouse community centre

The new Highbury Roundhouse community centre - Credit: Julia Gregory

One Highbury resident from the 71 Ronalds Road Group told the LDRS there is not enough room on the site.

“It does not work,” he said and added: “Their privacy would be compromised.”

The group said while it "believes strongly in inclusion of all cultures and backgrounds in Islington", it views the proposed site as "highly unsuitable to be converted into a location of acceptable quality for the Gypsy Traveller community”.

The group said as it sits on the opening of a cargo railway line tunnel it is “highly exposed to noise, vibration and pollution from diesel locomotives".

Among other concerns, members said there would be a lack of privacy, with houses overlooking the site.

The group said: “We are deeply disappointed by the council’s action, both on the consultation process and on its attempt to provide a very low-quality, inadequate and disrespectful site to the Gypsy and Traveller community.

"This is not our idea of inclusion and we hope the council will adopt adequate corrective actions.”

The consultation has been extended to early September and it at www.islington.gov.uk/consultations/2022/islington-draft-local-plan