Van dweller numbers rise again after lockdown

July 29 2020
Van dweller numbers rise again after lockdown

THE number of people living in vans on Bristol's streets is on the rise again, after numbers fell during the coronavirus lockdown.

The visible increase is causing worry for some residents for whom the matter is a “major source of concern”, councillors say.

New data from the city council shows there are about 40 locations across the city where people live in vans parked on the street.

In the Fishponds area they include Co-Operation Road in Greenbank (pictured above in 2019), Averay Road and Stapleton Road, under the M32.

Five of the encampments have been assessed as having a “high impact” on the surrounding neighbourhood, including the one in Co-Operation Road.

The increase in numbers was revealed after a question was put to Mayor Marvin Rees at July’s full council meeting by Westbury-on-Trym and Henleaze Conservative councillor Steve Smith.

His ward includes two roads – Parry’s Lane on Durdham Down and nearby Westbury Park close to the White Tree Roundabout - which are popular with van dwellers

Cllr Smith said: "These unauthorised sites on highways continue to be a major source of concern for residents in my ward."

Parry’s Lane has been identified as another of the five encampments in the city assessed as having a “high impact” by officers from the council and Avon and Somerset Police. The other three are in St Andrews, Horfield and St Werburgh’s.

Council figures showed that by May this year, the number of occupied vans on Bristol's streets 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.

But by June, numbers started to increase again as formerly vacant vehicles were reoccupied and an "increase in previously unrecorded vehicles" was noted at a total of 39 sites.

Council officials said: “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.

The council adopted a new policy for dealing with van dwellers in September of last year, despite a petition from more than 1,000 asking to be left alone. It allows the council to respond in various ways to people living in vehicles on roads, from helping them find alternative accommodation to enforcement action against those causing antisocial problems.

By Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporting Service