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Travellers pitch up in west London but cannot be moved on due to Covid-19 pandemic

Travellers have moved onto a picturesque nature reserve in West London, sparking heated opposition from residents.

Eight caravans and motorised homes, plus an assortment of other vehicles have been illegally camped out on Ham Lands nature reserve in Ham, south west London for the past week. 

Locals living close to the beauty spot, at the heart of the ‘best village in London’, say they have been told by Richmond upon Thames council that the new arrivals cannot be removed due to the coronavirus pandemic.   

They were told that the government had asked councils to allow travellers to stay on council-owned land, to enable them to access vital healthcare during lockdown – provided that they adhere to the law.

Residents in the Ham community were told the travellers would be allowed to remain on site for at least three months.

The picturesque area is home to several species of birds and insects and adjoins the River Thames, while celebrities including Tom Hardy, Amanda Holden and Lady Annabel Goldsmith live just a mile away in Ham Common.   

Pete Townshend of The Who and Sir David Attenborough also live in the exclusive nearby district.

The area is popular with dog walkers, horse owners, nature lovers and families who are now angry and claim it has become an eye sore and a hive of anti-social activity.

Group of travellers have set up caravans and tents on a site in Ham, Richmond in west London

Government measures to prevent spread of Covid-19 mean that the travellers will be allowed to remain at the site in Ham Lands, Ham in west London for at least three months

Government measures to prevent spread of Covid-19 mean that the travellers will be allowed to remain at the site in Ham Lands, Ham in west London for at least three months

Locals claim the tranquillity of the nature reserve has been shattered by people riding across it in quad bikes, cars and vans.

After complaining to the council, they were told that there was nothing that it could do because of new coronavirus guidelines which prevent them from evicting travellers to stop the virus from spreading.

Residents including Christian Ward (pictured) raised the issue with Richmond Council

Residents including Christian Ward (pictured) raised the issue with Richmond Council

The council said in a statement: ‘Under the new Government Covid19 guidance, councils are being asked to allow traveller sites to stay on council-owned land, to enable them to access vital healthcare during lockdown – provided that they adhere to the law.’ 

Christian Ward, 42, who was at Ham Lands with his two children, Willoughby, 3 and Marlow, 5, told MailOnline: ‘People come here to enjoy this beautiful space but now it’s been ruined.

‘There’s all kinds of mess that has been created and vehicles are being driven across it at high speed. What the council are saying does not make sense, they are just trying to wash their hands of the problem.

‘Just because there’s a coronavirus pandemic underway does not mean that the law should not be upheld.’

Mr Ward, a sports teacher at a local school added: ‘I don’t understand the lifestyle of these travellers because they cause a lot of problems. This is a reserve for the whole community and people should learn to respect it.’

Nigel Summers, 58 said locals were dubious about offers from travellers of carrying out work such as guttering, paving and cutting down trees as there had been claims of over charging and shoddy work.

He added: ‘These travellers did not come at the start of the lockdown so why are they being protected by coronavirus guidelines saying that they can access local health services and can’t be moved?

‘It’s not right that they will be allowed to remain here and ruin our lives’

A park security official who visits the traveller camp each day and only wanted to give her first name of Maria told MailOnline: ‘We won’t be able to move them for at least another three months because of coronavirus.

‘We’ve had problems of people riding quad bikes and a number of thefts have been reported. This is an affluent, middle class area and the locals are not happy about it but legally, our hands are tied. There’s really not much we can do apart from ask the travellers to behave themselves.’

Richmond-upon-Thames council also claimed that the ‘unauthorised traveller camp’ would be allowed to remain provided those living in it do not ‘burn rubbish, drive on footpaths or go to the toilet in the open.’

The council adds: ‘They must also not damage the site and abuse, intimidate or harass anyone or participate in any form of antisocial behaviour.’

Eyewitnesses said that an angle grinder was used to cut through a gate while concrete bollards were also knocked over allowing the traveller convoy to take over the nature reserve.

One local resident who contacted MailOnine but did not want to be named said: ‘These travellers have done all of this and they also broke into the nature reserve by breaking through a gate.

Richmond council told residents that, under government rules, councils must allow travellers to remain on council-owned sites so they can access vital healthcare amid the pandemic

Richmond council told residents that, under government rules, councils must allow travellers to remain on council-owned sites so they can access vital healthcare amid the pandemic 

Eight caravans and motorised homes, plus an assortment of other vehicles have been illegally camped out on Ham Lands nature reserve in Ham, south west London for the past week

Eight caravans and motorised homes, plus an assortment of other vehicles have been illegally camped out on Ham Lands nature reserve in Ham, south west London for the past week 

‘They have already breached the coronavirus guidelines on illegal traveller camps by carrying out illegal behaviour and should not be allowed to remain. The whole thing is a disgrace.’

A resident of the traveller camp, who did not want to be named, told MailOnline that they had not carried out any anti-social or illegal behaviour.

He said: ‘We come here every year, spend a few months, look for work in the local area and then leave. It’s a beautiful spot and we’re no trouble at all. The locals don’t like us, they’re a stuck-up bunch who don’t like travellers.’

When asked how they managed to enter Ham Lands with their vehicles he said he did not want to speak any further.

Richmond-upon-Thames councillor Martin Elengorn, Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee, said in a statement:

‘We know that residents do not like seeing unauthorised camps in our parks and open spaces, particularly when many of us are using these spaces a lot more since the lock down. Neither do we. But our hands are tied.

Locals claim the tranquillity of the nature reserve has been shattered by people riding across it in quad bikes, cars and vans

Locals claim the tranquillity of the nature reserve has been shattered by people riding across it in quad bikes, cars and vans

A resident of the traveller camp, who did not want to be named, told MailOnline that they had not carried out any anti-social or illegal behaviour

A resident of the traveller camp, who did not want to be named, told MailOnline that they had not carried out any anti-social or illegal behaviour

Richmond-upon-Thames council also claimed that the 'unauthorised traveller camp' would be allowed to remain provided those living in it do not 'burn rubbish, drive on footpaths or go to the toilet in the open'

Richmond-upon-Thames council also claimed that the ‘unauthorised traveller camp’ would be allowed to remain provided those living in it do not ‘burn rubbish, drive on footpaths or go to the toilet in the open’

‘Under the new national rules, we cannot use our usual powers to evict travelling families from unauthorised encampments and the Government has asked councils to allow those families to stay while the crisis continues. With some vulnerable people among their number, this will allow them to access healthcare and reduce the potential spread of the virus.

‘Our Park Guard security team and the Police are currently working with the travellers to ensure that they do not behave illegally whilst staying in the borough. Residents who are concerned about illegal behaviour are able to make reports to the police by calling 111.’ 

 A statement from Richmond Council said: ‘Normally, the Council retains the power to work with the Police to ensure travellers move on.

However, under the new Government Covid-19 guidance, councils are being asked to allow traveller sites to stay on council-owned land, to enable them to access vital healthcare during lockdown – provided that they adhere to the law.

Witnesses claimed that an angle grinder was used to cut through a gate while concrete bollards were also knocked over allowing the traveller convoy to take over the nature reserve

Witnesses claimed that an angle grinder was used to cut through a gate while concrete bollards were also knocked over allowing the traveller convoy to take over the nature reserve

The council confirmed they would be monitoring the ongoing situation and may consider moving the travellers on if they break the rules

The council confirmed they would be monitoring the ongoing situation and may consider moving the travellers on if they break the rules

‘Under Government rules, and during the lockdown, unauthorised traveller camps will be allowed provided they do not burn rubbish, drive on footpaths or go to the toilet in the open.

‘They must also not damage the site and abuse, intimidate or harass anyone or participate in any form of antisocial behaviour.’

The council further confirmed they would be monitoring the ongoing situation and may consider moving the travellers on if they break the rules.

They added: ‘The Council understands that residents are concerned about the presence of the unauthorised camp on Riverside Drive in Ham. 

‘However, the authority is currently not legally able to move them on, although we are monitoring the situation closely in order to be in a position to defend any decision to move them on.’

Councillor Martin Elengorn, Chair of Richmond Council’s Environment and Sustainability Committee, added: ‘We know that residents do not like seeing unauthorised camps in our parks and open spaces, particularly when many of us are using these spaces a lot more since the lock down. Neither do we. But our hands are tied.

‘Under the new national rules we cannot use our usual powers to evict travelling families from unauthorised encampments and the Government has asked councils to allow those families to stay while the crisis continues.

‘With some vulnerable people among their number, this will allow them to access healthcare and reduce the potential spread of the virus.

‘Our Park Guard security team and the Police are currently working with the travellers to ensure that they do not behave illegally whilst staying in the borough. Residents who are concerned about illegal behaviour are able to make reports to the police by calling 111.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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