And then the campaign turned racist
This article was first published in the TT Spring/Summer 2023 issue of the Travellers' Times Magazine. The TT will be following this article with further updates as the plan to build more Traveller sites in the greater Norwich area progresses - or doesn't progress...
At a parish meeting in the Norfolk village of Lingwood, on a chilly spring evening in early March this year, they started to arrive in their hundreds.
The story began last year, when a consortium of local councils proposed that land should be set aside for several new Traveller sites in the Greater Norwich Development Plan. The plan is a blue print for the years ahead and marks out land to develop new shops, industrial estates, roads, houses etc – and a tiny number of Traveller sites. One of the proposed Traveller sites is a mile or so outside Lingwood. This was what the Lingwood meeting was all about.
The inevitable campaign against the Lingwood proposal had a slow start; an earlier parish meeting about the proposed site had only four members of the public turn up, and a follow-up meeting had ten. At first, objections seemed to centre around the welfare of the future residents of the Traveller site – largely based on its proximity to the A47 trunk road - but then the campaign turned racist. A few days before the March meeting two things happened; racist posters (pictured) suddenly appeared in the surrounding area; and a campaign website was created hosting a dossier of objections, links to sensationalist media reports about Travellers, and a copy of the poster.
The local community Facebook groups began to buzz with conflict. On one group, its members largely opposing the proposed site, one brave local said that they did not go to the meeting because “the idea of being shouted down by ill-informed bigots would have been intimidating.” In reply to another negative post on the group, which repeated so called “concerns” about the welfare of any potential Traveller site residents, one Traveller girl wrote: “Like to question your concerns (…) Do you know that most sites are opposed by the wider society-who hide behind a caring face but it is in actual fact racism.”
It's not unknown for councils to propose Traveller sites on unsuitable land, but for me, that hundreds of people turned up to the March meeting after the racist poster appeared, when hardly anyone turned up to the meetings before, exposes the real motivations of many of those who went. A local county councillor who was at the meeting suggested that building a Traveller site in an area where there weren’t any was unsuitable. Yet in another area the local parishioners are objecting to a similar proposal because they say they already have enough Traveller sites there. The councillor also said she was surprised by the turnout, but maybe she shouldn’t have been; because nothing can pack out a parish meeting like a nearby planning proposal for a Traveller site can.
The TT approached Lingwood and Burlinghan Parish Council for comment. A spokesperson for the Parish Council replied:
"This poster has not been put up by the Parish Council and does not in any way reflect what the Parish Council wishes to encourage. We are keen to foster unbiased and accurate information and reasonable discussion.
The Parish Council has advertised the Public Meeting, which was called for by the Public, where 2 members of the Greater Norwich Local Plan team will come and answer any questions that Parishioners have. The objections we have received and intend to discuss at our meeting relate solely to practical considerations surrounding the proposed site and its general unsuitability."
By Charmaine McGuigan/TT Investigations