End of lockdown brings increase in van living
Van dwellers are on the rise again locally after their numbers fell during coronavirus lockdown.
The visible increase is causing fresh worry for some residents for whom the matter is a “major source of concern”.
Recent data from Bristol City Council shows there are about 40 locations across the city where people live in vans parked on the street. Five of these encampments have been assessed as having a “high impact” on the surrounding neighbourhood.
And the numbers are starting to swell after nine months of growth was interrupted by a sharp drop during lockdown.
The fresh information comes ten months after the council introduced a new policy for dealing with van dwellers that sought to balance the needs of residents with those of people choosing an alternative lifestyle.
It was revealed in a response to questions put to city mayor Marvin Rees at July’s full council meeting.
Henleaze and Westbury councillor Steve Smith, who sought the latest figures said: “These unauthorised sites on highways continue to be a major source of concern for residents in my ward.”
Two roads locally are popular with van dwellers – Parry’s Lane on Durdham Down and nearby Westbury Park close to the White Tree Roundabout. Parry’s Lane is especially popular and is often packed end-to-end with large white camper vans parked on both sides of the through road.
The written response provided to Councillor Smith identified Parry’s Lane as one of five encampments in the city assessed as having a “high impact” by officers from the council and Avon and Somerset Police.
The other four encampments are in Maurice Road next to St Andrew’s Park in St Andrew’s; Kellaway Avenue, which runs through Horfield and Bishopston; Co-operation Road in Greenbank; and Mina Road and nearby streets in St Werburgh’s.
However, the status of the Parry’s Lane encampment has now changed to “low impact” again and no action is being taken.
“The position regarding the Parrys Lane encampment is very confused, but seems to be that Council officers are currently monitoring it as a “low impact” encampment. If residents witness any problems arising from it, it’s essential that they report them to us or direct to the Council in order to build a full picture,” said Cllr Steve Smith.
Whether van dwellers are having a high or low impact on the neighbourhood is assessed using evidence generally derived from police and witness statements, photographs and videos, and officer observations, the council said.
A full survey carried out in March, just before lockdown, found the number of occupied vehicles had grown during the previous nine months.
But by May, that number had fallen from about 150 to 60, with 45 having moved to temporary sites off the highway provided by the council to limit the spread of Covid-19.
Another full survey in June revealed van dweller numbers were starting to increase again as formerly vacant vehicles were being reoccupied.
“There has been an increase in previously unrecorded vehicles in Bristol,” according to the official response supplied for the July 7 council meeting.
“A number of new arrivals have said that they would normally be working at festivals over the summer but as these have been cancelled are looking for alternative employment.
“This is a citywide issue and one that doesn’t have a simple solution.
“There are many reasons people live in vehicles: accommodation costs, complex needs of some vehicle dwellers and sometimes it is a lifestyle choice.”
Under the new policy, the council responds in various ways to people living in vehicles on roads, from helping them find alternative accommodation to enforcement action against those causing antisocial problems.