Anger as Derbyshire Traveller site plan is ditched

A Derbyshire council leader has refused to apologise to two homeless traveller families after deciding to scrap a planned permanent site following 18 months of investigations.

By Eddie Bisknell
Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 12:57 pm

Cllr Garry Purdy, Tory leader of the council, voiced his frustrations on behalf of the traveller families, who he said “are the most racially abused section of our society”.

However, when called on to apologise as an authority to the village of Tansley and the traveller families for the continued failure to create a permanent site and the “distress” caused over the past 18 months, Cllr Purdy refused to do so.

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The site at Tansley which has been dropped by the council.

Cllr Purdy said it was now a matter of urgency to find another plot in the Dales which could be turned into a permanent traveller site and called on landowners to put forward sites they own.

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He said the council may be willing to financially support landowners to turn sites they own into permanent traveller plots.

The site at Knabhall Lane has been dubbed “impracticable and too costly for the council to pursue” by Cllr Purdy and council officers.

This is because of a badger sett on the site which must be legally protected and due to the site’s former use as a landfill, with associated contamination which needs thorough investigation before people can live there.

£11,500 has already been spent on ground investigations and up to £231,000 had been recommended to be spent by expert firm RSK.

John Youatt, a local resident, said that the council should reconsider a site known as the Woodyard, in Homesford, between Cromford and Crich.

He said the council earmarked the site as its best option in 2013, but the site was never progressed.

Mr Youatt urged councillors to “abandon Tansley and readopt the Woodyard” in order to stop “chasing travellers all around the district” at great cost to taxpayers.

Cllr Vicki Raynes, chairman of Tansley Parish Council, called the potential Knabhall Lane site “ill-conceived” and said the authority would “vigorously contest” what was a “waste of taxpayers’ money”.

She said locals knew of the badger sett on the site before it was earmarked and said the police’s rural crime team had called into question the “inadequate” buffer zone between the animals and ground investigation works.

Cllr Raynes also called for the Woodyard site to be progressed.

Mark Johnson, who grew up on Knabhall Lane, said there has been a long established badger sett on the site for years and asked the council to earmark it as a protected wildlife habitat – if it was to be dropped as a traveller site.

Rob Cogings, the council’s head of housing, said that whilst badgers are now present in the area, they were not present on the site earlier in 2021.

He said “the site cannot feasibly be developed”.

Cllr Purdy said: “My disappointment is for the traveller families concerned who are looking forward to having possession of their own small piece of land upon which they could call home and to put an end to the continued threat of being moved on from pillar to post.

“Gypsies and Travellers are the most racially abused section of our society.

We all have our own homes and I know how we would feel if we were constantly moved from pillar to post.

“We are back to square one and it is not a position to be proud of.”

Cllr Purdy, a Conservative, said he was “especially angry”, following the current situation, that the authority had to drop an approved permanent traveller site in Water Lane, Ashbourne, under orders from the then incoming Conservative administration at Derbyshire County Council in 2017.

This was due to a ban on all land purchases in the Ashbourne area so as not to restrict plans for a bypass around the town – a long held plan and key priority for the county council Tories.

Cllr Purdy said there were “nasty objections”, “hostilities and nastiness” wherever a traveller site was earmarked or where either of the homeless families were moved to.

Tim Braund, the council’s director of regulatory services, said one of the homeless traveller families was on the Matlock train station car park and the second was currently based just outside of the district.

Mr Braund said: “If any of the homeless travellers arrive on a site that we own in the district, officers have no power to move them on from that site, that’s the honest situation.”

This is because the council does not have any “temporary tolerated” sites or a formal temporary or permanent site on which to move travellers to. Councils have previously rejected having a list of seven temporary sites on which travellers could stay for a limited time.

Cllr Steve Flitter, a Liberal Democrat, said: “We told you about the badger sett, we told you about the contamination, we told you about the lack of services and we told you about the local opposition.

“The residents of Tansley have been put through the mill on this one.”

Cllr Martin Burfoot, a Lib Dem, said the site was “total nonsense from the word ‘go’” and said it was unsuitable due to its altitude and the narrowness of the access road.

He claims the blocking of the Watery Lane site in Ashbourne was a major blow and that “Cllr [Simon] Spencer [deputy leader at the county council] and co said it was over their dead bodies” – to develop the site.

Cllr Sue Burfoot, Lib Dem, said: “I am so frustrated by this. We have had all this time and we are no further forward. I hope everyone will look into their own consciences and realise that this need not have happened and should not have happened.”

Cllr Mark Salt, Conservative, said: “I think that members on that side of the chamber are entitled to their ‘I told you so’ moment.

Lots of councillors on this side had doubts about the site too, but this council has an obligation to find a site and the fact that councillors and residents came up with reasons why we shouldn’t go forward with this site, which have turned out to be completely genuine, doesn’t mean this council doesn’t have to go through the due process and investigate those reasons.

“We don’t stop at the beginning because someone says it is not suitable.

“If we don’t find one soon, Government will just tell us where to put them.”

Cllr Peter O’Brien, independent, said: “We wasted those months, we wasted that time, that energy, and that money and we antagonised a local community, and we let the traveller community down.

“We have made an unholy mess of the situation, a pig’s ear of it and we should recognise that.

“Should formally apologise to the local community for the distress we have caused them and for the distress we have caused the traveller community.”