Heated meeting over traveller site plans in Derbyshire Dales

Monday, November 19th, 2018 7:29am

By Eddie Bisknell- Local Democracy Reporter @EddieBisk

Frustration came to the boil during a debate on finding a permanent site for travellers in the Derbyshire Dales last week.

One councillor fears that if the situation is not resolved soon, it could descend into violence.

Last week, (Thursday, November 15) councillors agreed, almost unanimously, to begin searching the open market to buy a site for travellers after “exhausting” all other options.

As part of this process, Derbyshire Dales District Council will also appoint an external surveyor to conduct the search.

This is thought to be a costly process.

In July, the authority said that the cost of developing a new traveller pitch would be £112,128.

It also said that over the past six months, managing unauthorised encampments had taken up the vast majority of officer time and legal funds, at the expense of other projects.

It revealed that over the past five years, the district council has acted on 52 unauthorised encampments, at a cost of £4,249.

The latest plan has been put forward as a last ditch effort to find the required six pitches for travellers in the Dales.

The authority’s chief executive, Paul Wilson, said that the issue has haunted the district for 25 years.

He said that “this is now an issue which is evolving daily”.

Until recently, a family of travellers had been camped out at the Agricultural Business Centre in Bakewell.

Since then, after being moved on, they have pitched their caravans at Fishpond Meadow in Ashbourne.

Head of regulatory services, Tim Braund, said that the authority has provided more than 1,000 homes for the settled community, but none for the traveller community.

He said that this is a situation which the district must settle – and is legally obliged to do.

Mr Braund said that if travellers chose to move from the allocated site, the district council has the power to move them back.

The issue at the moment is that when moving on the travellers from unauthorised sites, the authority has nowhere to move them on to.

Cllr Vicky Massey-Bloodworth, Conservative member for Hathersage and Eyam, said: “There is a lot of anger out there.

“There are people who are saying they can’t get a house and they see that we are giving travellers one for free.

“Things could boil over and get violent.”

Last night, councillors were frustrated to be told that their questions on the topic should be limited and that they should only discuss the brief of the report.

The brief was whether to give officers permission to hunt the open market for private sites which the district could buy and use as a traveller site.

Ashbourne South councillor Dermot Murphy expressed dismay at being “shut down” and slammed his hand down on the table during the debate.

He said: “The press are here tonight, and this is not going to look good.

“I am happy to support this but I am frustrated that we are being shut down. I submitted questions to this meeting and was told to withdraw them.

“My concern is that if we had moved quicker to secure the Watery Lane site, that it could have been used as a temporary site.”

Following the meeting Cllr Murphy remarked “it stinks to high heaven and I have no answers for the people of Ashbourne”.

The district council had all but secured Watery Lane in Ashbourne as a permanent site for travellers but was told in July this year that this was no longer on the table.

This was due to Derbyshire County Council suspending all land sales in the Ashbourne area so as it could push ahead with plans for a bypass around the town.

The district council’s chief executive stated that it was a change in administration – from Labour to Conservative – which had caused the loss of the site, due to a shift in priorities.

He also stated that after talks with county councillor Simon Spencer, the cabinet member for highways, it was clear that the Watery Lane site could not be used as a temporary site going forward.

Cllr David Chapman, said: “The phrase permanent traveller site seems to be an oxymoron.”

In response to this, Mr Braund said: “Like all of us, travellers get old and want to settle down. I have no reason to believe that if they are given a permanent site, that they would ever move on.”

Independent councillor Colin Swindell was the one member not to support the motion, abstaining from the vote.

The member for Winster and South Darley said: “The taxpayers sees services reduced and they are charged for more and they are now seeing that we are spending money providing homes for people who have not contributed, as far as I’m aware.

“I have got a lot of mixed feelings about this and I need a bit more education. I have absolutely nothing against travellers, it is not in my nature, and we do need to offer them a place as a council, but I do have my concerns.”

John Youatt, a member of the Derbyshire Dales Green Party, spoke at the meeting, urging councillors to consider a site called the Woodyard, three miles from Cromford, next to the A6.

The council’s chief executive said that the site had been “comprehensively dismissed by two inspectors” due to being “unsuitable”.

Mr Braund also said that after consulting a family of travellers well-known in the area, the site was found to be too dangerous, due to its proximity to the busy A6.

Cllr Richard FitzHerbert said: “We need to grasp the nettle once again, especially now that Watery Lane is off the table.

“We are spending a great deal of money on enforcement and officer time.”

Cllr Mike Ratcliffe commented: “If we are not careful this is going to divise us in the same way as the government.

“I find it difficult to accept that Watery Lane could not have been used sooner, it could have at least provided temporary accommodation – we have a duty of care to meet their needs.”

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