Earmarked Romany Gypsies’ and Travellers’ sites deemed ‘not sound’

The Ronalds Road site

The Ronalds Road site. Photograph: Julia Gregory, free for use by partners of BBC new wire service

Three potential sites for homes for Gypsies and Travellers in Islington have been ruled out as “unsound” by  planning inspectors.

Islington Council was told to find three sites as part of its next local plan but planning inspectors said the two sites at Junction Road in Archway and a site near the food bank in Ronalds Road in Highbury were unsuitable.

Travellers from Islington said they were “gutted that neither of the sites have gone through.”

Lisa said: “We’re not giving up yet and hopefully the council will find a suitable alternative, as there is a big need for these sites.”

The inspectors said the council-owned Highbury site would be too noisy for homes because it is close to the railway line with a tunnel running directly below.

They said despite the council’s suggestion that it could “address” the site “potential adverse noise and vibration” they did not think the site in Ronalds Road as “sound.”

They told the council there was no evidence that “suitable living conditions are possible.”

Residents from the 71 Ronalds Road Community Group reacted to the decision.

They said: “We are relieved that common sense has prevailed, and wish the Council well in finding genuinely workable places for our Gypsy and Traveller neighbours to live. Now let’s take this opportunity to turn Ron’s Yard into a space that the whole community can enjoy.”

The other two sites in Junction Road are owned by Network Rail and Transport for London which have both  said they have no current plans to redevelop or sell their land.

Hearing this the inspectors told the council “we consider that both sites cannot be considered available or deliverable and are therefore unsound.”

The Shaolin Temple UK campaigned against Islington’s plans for the TfL-owned site which has been the base of a temple and martial arts centre for more than 20 years.

They said it ” has being serving hundreds of the local communities including young children and vulnerable people, and is consecrated and blessed ground for the use of Prayers and Meditation”.

In a petition signed by  more than 12,500 people they branded the suggestion as to rehouse the temple as  “sacrilege”. They added: ” The Shaolin Temple is not just a martial arts centre as categorised by the council.

“It is a vibrant and much beloved community centre with deep roots. To move the Temple to another site would mean destroying the sacred grounds and putting an end to a vital legacy for preserving an ancient Chinese culture dating back 1500 years.”

At a packed meeting in Highbury last year council officers told residents it is difficult to find suitable sites for six to ten pitches, as the borough is one of the smallest in London. It looked at 60 sites and thought most of them were unsuitable.

Ilinca Diaconescu, policy and campaigns coordinator at London Gypsies and Travellers said: “There is an acute shortage of culturally suitable homes for Romany Gypsy and Traveller Londoners, as the planning system has been failing to accommodate their needs for decades. This is compounded by the everyday prejudice and discrimination that the communities continue to face.

“This decision means that there will be further delays in delivering the homes that are urgently needed by local Gypsy and Traveller residents. We urge the council to start working to identify suitable sites now, in close consultation with the community. ”

The inspectors told the council they would like to hear its suggestions “including the potential for an early review for all Gypsy and Traveller matters.”

In response the council’s planning policy team leader Jonathan Gibb said it would review “all Gypsy and Traveller matters would be the best option” immediately the local plan is approved if the inspectors agree.

He also pledged to remove the three earmarked sites from the plan.