Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

Are objections to a Travellers site at Beighton really about the traffic?

A proposed industrial site on Eckington Way has not attracted the same ire. So if it’s not about congestion, what is really going on?

An empty road leading to a roundabout surrounded by trees

Side road by Eckington Way

Andrew Hill / Geograph Britain and Ireland

Sheffield City Council has released details of its Draft Sheffield Plan, a vision and framework for future development in the city. All local authorities are required to produce them and they are used to guide planning decisions into the future.

At a Local Area Committee (LAC) meeting in January, Simon Vincent, Strategic Planning Service Manager at Sheffield City Council, detailed the Plan for the South East of the city. Amidst concerns about preserving green spaces and whether new homes would be carbon neutral, residents also shared their worries about a proposed Gypsy and Traveller site, as well as a proposed area for an industrial site, on land east of Eckington Way in Beighton.

It is anticipated that this site would be used by travelling showpeople, incorporating both business use and static caravans. But in contrast to the relatively mild objections in the LAC meeting, action being taken online and locally in the area close to Crystal Peaks is more explicit in its complaints about the proposed plan.

A map of the South East of Sheffield from the Local Plan

A map of the South East of Sheffield from the Local Plan

Sheffield City Council

And while the discussions purport to be opposing the plans on the basis of increased traffic, there are indications that some people object to Gypsy and Traveller communities for reasons that are closer to bigotry.

Four petitions have been set up. Three of the four are complaining about the plans for the Gypsy and Traveller site, whereas only one opposes the industrial site. If the problem with the proposal was truly about traffic, surely the number of signatories would be the same for both topics?

Of the three petitions on the Sheffield City Council website, the two objecting to the Traveller site have 634 and 2,795 signatures, while the petition opposing the industrial site has 624. A petition against the Gypsy and Traveller site has 252 signatures. Clive Betts MP is setting up a residents’ committee “to discuss next steps”.

Michael Chilton, who works with Clive Betts, set up two of the petitions. His petition against the Gypsy and Traveller site states that the land is “not suitable” for this use, explaining that the “main access road of Eckington Way is already congested, and this additional traffic would cause significant disruption”. He goes on to say that because there is already a Traveller site in Sheffield South East, adding another one would “not be proportionate” and was “not on the city boundaries”.

His second petition, against the industrial site, also cites traffic and congestion and the differing heights of the field behind nearby residential properties.

Surely, if the key problem is traffic and congestion at the site, the most successful anti-Traveller site petition wouldn’t have 2,171 more signatures than the anti-industrial site one.

When asked why he set up two petitions instead of one, Chilton told Now Then, “The details of the development weren’t initially clear. It was understood just to be a Traveller site.” He went on to say that when he heard about the proposed industrial site, he created the second petition.

However, the draft Plan was approved and made public by the Council in December, whereas the first petition is dated 12 January.

Chilton, who is also the Labour Party candidate for Beighton, told me, “When these petitions go to Council I intend to speak about both collectively. The issue is not around the nature of the development, but that the land is unsuitable for any type of development due to traffic and congestion.”

Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) states that “44% of British adults openly express negative attitudes against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities”, a group whose very way of life is being effectively criminalised by the Tory government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PSCS) Bill that bans unauthorised encampments.

A 2021 report by FFT details a massive shortage of official sites in the UK, finding that “over 1,696 households are currently on waiting lists for pitches, there are just 59 permanent and 42 transit pitches available nationwide.”

So new sites are vital for this community.

In online discussions, some comments are focused on traffic in the Beighton area, but others skirt around – or state outright – objections based on negative stereotypes of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

  • “More trouble, more for residents to worry about.”
  • “I'll be honest and say I don't want another Gypsy site locally. In recent years they camped illegally on the large field at Littlemoor and left a disgusting mess. Similar reports all over the country.”
  • “if I lived on Springwell backing on to the field I’d be definitely objecting. A ringside view of fires, kids screaming up and down on quads at all hours and just general noise and mess. I take it you’ve never been on a field after the travelers have left? Literally shit everywhere.”
  • “I'd be scared to walk about, they mug you, cause crimes and everything and the police are too scared to do anything”

There are many questions on social media about why, when there is already a Traveller site in the south west of the city, there should be another in that area, and these betray prejudicial assumptions about the presence of this marginalised community.

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have a rich cultural history but face profound multiple disadvantages, from high infant mortality rates to employment discrimination, and some of the objections being shared by residents seem to be based on fear and prejudice rather than genuine concern about traffic jams.

If it truly was about the traffic, that industrial site petition would also have thousands of signatures.

But it hasn’t. And Facebook comments saying, “There’s sum Very expensive houses up there watch the prices go down when the Travellers move in,” suggest NIMBYism more than traffic control concerns.

One comment inadvertently expressed this clearly: “why put it bang next to a high value housing estate with a kiddies playground like the springwell! Surely they won't be happy, it will devalue their houses”.

More Democracy & Activism

More Democracy & Activism