Council-picked site welcomed by the Traveller community – but neighbours call it ‘inadequate and disrespectful’

The proposed site on Ronalds Road. Photograph: Julia Gregory

The reasons for selecting a Highbury site for a “small-scale” home for Gypsies and Travellers have been questioned – despite families welcoming it as a chance for them to follow their culture.

Islington Council put forward the spot near the Roundhouse community centre on Ronalds Road after the planning inspector told it to come up with three suitable sites for six to 10 pitches for Gypsies and Travellers.

This came after the Town Hall failed to include any in its new local plan.

Head of planning policy Sakiba Gurda told residents at a meeting to discuss their questions: “It’s 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 location could provide homes for two to three households.

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

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

The 22 July gathering was arranged by Highbury ward councillors to give people a chance to find out more.

Planners said most sites “had significant constraints” – many had “multiple angles” overlooked by neighbours, whilst others were too small or had difficult access to roads.

It suggested Ronalds Road and two sites in Junction Road – one of which is home to the Shaolin Temple martial arts school.

The council said if that site were approved it would have to find a new home for the school “of equivalent quality, quantity and accessibility”.

It described Ronalds Road as “the best of a bad lot”.

Some residents who live near the site said they are 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 people were away.

Gurda said the council did not modify the plan until late May.

Cllr Caroline Russell (Green) said 900 leaflets were hand-delivered by councillors and volunteers and there was also a meeting with community groups.

Other residents said they wanted more information such as drawings to get an idea of how the site will look.

Islington Food Bank uses part of the chosen site. Photograph: Julia Gregory

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

London Gypsies and Travellers policy and campaigns co-ordinator Ilinca Diaconescu said: “We are talking about 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 have a vital role in 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 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 hope 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 Citizen 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 also concerned about any impact on the purpose-built new base for the Roundhouse community centre and Islington Food Bank, which also uses part of the proposed site.

Karen Sullivan, Islington’s director of planning and development, said: “It will not have a negative impact on the Roundhouse.”

Concerns were also raised about air pollution from diesel trains standing in front of a railway tunnel near the site.

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

“It does not work,” he said, adding: “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.”

It 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”.

Members were also concerned that people “would suffer from disturbance and lack of privacy on a site over which tens of nearby residential properties have direct views”.

Other worries included its location on a “prominent walking route” to Arsenal matches, which would impact on people’s privacy and the number of people using the community centre, and use of the land for a community orchard.

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.