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Olympic Games 2012: Gypsies and Travellers

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What choice of relocation site was offered to the Gypsy residents of Clays Lane in Newham by the authorities preparing the 2012 Olympic Games sites.

My Lords, the London Development Agency has been working closely with the Clays Lane Travellers to provide alternative suitable accommodation as part of its work to obtain vacant possession of the Olympic Park site. Work is now under way to build a Travellers’ site at Major Road, which was considered the most appropriate to be delivered on time.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does he agree that a previous acceptable site was offered at Chobham Farm, which was well received but then withdrawn? What representations were made or pressure exerted by the property developers, in view of the potential value of this site after the Olympics are over, to have Chobham Farm withdrawn?

My Lords, the London Development Agency has to secure the Olympic site this month. There was no guarantee that it would be able to conclude the negotiations over Chobham Farm. That is why the Major Road site, which has become available this month and is very close to the site which the Travellers currently occupy, was chosen. Work is going ahead on that, and all the Travellers’ families can be accommodated on the one site.

My Lords, is it not shameful that while the Government and the Olympic Delivery Authority are trumpeting the regenerative benefits of the Olympic Games, some of the most deprived people in the area have been forced to live in intolerable conditions in the middle of a building site with smoke and dirt, while awaiting a decision on an alternative? Finally, a site that they were offered has been taken away from them, and they are being forced on to one which neither they nor the neighbours wanted.

My Lords, the House will recognise the crowded nature of the London Borough of Newham. There were no sites available for options within Newham. A site has been identified which is close to those which the families currently occupy. It is not ideal, and the families do not want to move. That is the case with Travellers’ families, many businesses and the allotment holders whom we discussed the other week. All of them are somewhat disadvantaged by the necessary compulsory purchase of the site. Of course, such a large site was bound to occasion some difficulties, but they are marginal.

My Lords, is there a proposal to resituate the Travellers on the site once the Games are over, as with the allotment holders? If not, is this partly due to the realisation of maximum property values on the site following the deal with the National Lottery?

My Lords, I cannot give that guarantee. The site identified is a new site provided for Travellers. It will meet their needs. Returning to the original position is not an option. The London Development Agency and the Olympic Delivery Authority cannot in every case guarantee that everybody who has been moved can go back to their original location. That is in the nature of such a substantial development.

My Lords, have the Government assessed the impact on the education and schooling of the Gypsy children as a result of, first, the eviction and, secondly, at least two future relocations? Does this not need to be handled with great care?

My Lords, it certainly does. The noble Lord will recognise that the one virtue of this site, which I have already stressed, is that it is close to the existing site, so the dislocation is limited. However, he is correct that Travellers have their rights and the local authority is obliged to respond to them. The London Borough of Newham intends to do so.