.

'Secret' traveller site proposed by Derbyshire Dales councillors

Thursday, October 31st, 2019 12:21pm

By Eddie Bisknell- Local Democracy Reporter @EddieBisk

A secret site, potentially in the Ashbourne area, could become home to up to nine traveller families.

One of those could be a family camping at a public car park in Rowsley, who have been given the go-ahead by Derbyshire Dales District Council to stay at the site until February.

This is despite concerns from a number of business owners, who say that fly-tipping and human waste has been dumped on the site – which is also putting off customers.

However, councillors welcomed the news of a potential site that could provide a solution to the traveller issue.

The authority confesses that its inability to sufficiently cater for travellers has hampered it for decades.

It has a legal obligation under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 to provide permanent sites on which travellers can pitch their caravans.

For now, it only has a responsibility to house the Rowsley family, who have registered themselves as homeless, but it must also have permanent spots which other travellers can be directed to – instead of continuing with a repeated series of evictions.

It says it faces a high risk of a legal challenge if it continues repeated evictions without a designated permanent spot to direct travellers to.

Last night, (Wednesday, October 30) Tim Braund, the council’s head of regulatory services revealed that a secret site could solve the district’s entire shortfall in traveller pitches.

It is required to provide space for nine families throughout the district by 2034 (six of which should have been created by this year) and Mr Braund says that the major benefit of the secret site is that it could house this entire requirement.

He says that he is hoping that the mystery landowner behind the site, found by consultants, will allow the traveller family currently in Rowsley to move onto his site straight away, instead of waiting for it to be developed. That family has expressed a desire to live in the Ashbourne area.

Mr Braund confirmed that the district council does have £10,000 available for the designing of a permanent traveller site but said that this money would not cover the costs of developing it, or buying or leasing the land.

He said that the council would seek grants from Homes England to help it secure the site.

Mr Braund could not confirm when the council could seal a deal for the site, but said that it is working “very speedily” to do so and the landowner, who at this point chooses to remain anonymous, is open to listen to offers.

He said: “Despite this item’s regular appearance at this committee, we do not have lots of encampments.

“Other authorities have proceeded to injunctions to have district-wide coverage bans on travellers, and have even named specific families, but these are districts with hundreds of illegal encampments every year – and we do not have that.”

A report on the issue revealed that the district council has spent £7,000 on providing facilities at the current temporary site in the Old Station Close car park in Rowsley – which it owns.

It has also spent £3,000 on consultants to find a permanent site.

Rowsley business owner Richard Bean, said at the meeting: “Visitors are concerned about parking in the car park thinking their cars could be damaged and are instead parking on the access roads – causing issues for deliveries.

“Huge amounts of green waste have been dumped and the perpetrators are being allowed to set a large pile of waste on fire are night time when the site is vacated.

“Large amounts of human waste and soiled toilet paper have been found in the car park.”

Mr Braund confirmed that a large amount of green waste, largely trees and shrubs, had been found on site.

This may be linked to a number of additional traveller families who also pitched their caravans on the Rowsley site.

Overt surveillance to find the culprits of the fly-tipping was carried out and proved unsuccessful.

By the time the application for undercover or covert surveillance was approved, the council’s application to evict the additional travellers was approved, Mr Braund said.

He said the fly-tipping has reduced substantially since the evicted traveller families left.

Mr Braund also confirmed that the problem travellers had, after their eviction, proceeded to move to the Agricultural Business Centre in Bakewell, from which they were also evicted.

He confirmed that the family had then moved to the train station car park in Matlock Bath, from which the council was also now seeking an eviction notice.

Cllr Joyce Pawley said: “No doubt they will start chopping trees down there too.”

Mr Braund said two sites in the district, the current site in Rowsley, and a previously agreed temporary tolerated site near Stoney Wood in Wirksworth, are “deemed not suitable to become permanent sites”.

This leaves just the secret site, found by consultants, which covers just over an acre and is in an area “preferred” by the traveller family currently staying in Rowsley.

The meeting was told that the secret site is hard-surfaced and is currently occupied by a number of commercial buildings.

It already has an electricity supply and an available mains water connection and the gypsy liaison officer, representing the family in question is “very pleased” with the potential site.

For the time being, however, councillors were asked to approve plans to allow the family to stay in Rowsley until February.

Councillor Colin Swindell said that by this point he would like the council to be looking to move the family on elsewhere, with Rowsley having had its “fair share”.

Councillor Martin Burfoot said that the current situation in Rowsley was “totally unsatisfactory”.

Councillor Mike Ratcliffe said: “Maybe it is not just Brexit that needs to get done, but also the traveller issue too.”

He said it was “an embarrassment” that work that had been carried out to prepare the potential Wirksworth site has left visitors unable to park in the Stoney Wood car park.

Councillor Garry Purdy, leader of the council, said: “This authority is between a rock and a hard place. We do have a duty of care for this family.

“People may say that nobody wants them, but we have to look after them.”

More from Local