Travelling family could be moved to a site close to Matlock Bath train station car park

An aerial shot of Matlock Bath train station
An aerial shot of Matlock Bath train station

A traveller family camping in Ashbourne town centre could soon be allocated a spot off the Matlock Bath train station car park.

The family are currently camping on the Fishpond Meadows overspill car park in Park Road, Ashbourne, and have done so since the start of November.

Now, Derbyshire Dales District Council has plans to allocate a “temporary tolerated” site to which it will recommend that the family move to.

The suggested site is the overspill car park at Matlock Bath train station – known as Tinti’s Yard.

It is only used for parking during the summer and the Matlock Back Illuminations.

If councillors approve of the recommendation at a meeting on Monday (December 10), the site could be used by travellers until March 2019.

However, the authority cannot force the family to move to the allocated site.

But if the family move to another unauthorised plot or remain where they are, the authority has said it will use its powers to begin legal proceedings.

The family’s current Ashbourne campsite is thought to be unsuitable for long-term use due to “its location, poor ground conditions, lack of services and its required use as a town centre car park”.

The district council has not at this stage undertaken any legal action to secure the family’s eviction.

A report on the issue, written by the authority’s chief executive, Paul Wilson, states: “In the event that the district council were to initiate legal proceedings to secure their eviction, it is highly likely that the family will move to another unauthorised site which may be less tolerable in the short term by virtue of its suitability and location.

“The removal of the family in the absence of an alternative site may also have an adverse impact on the well-being of the family.

“Further unauthorised encampments would also create a greater cost burden on the council in terms of enforcement and may create animosity between the travelling and settled communities.”

In November, Mr Wilson said that the challenge of finding a permanent traveller site has haunted the authority for 25 years.

As it stands, the district council is struggling to secure six permanent traveller pitches by next year – which it is legally obliged to do.

It says that managing unauthorised encampments is currently taking up a vast amount of officer time and a “drain” on its resources – at the expense of other projects.

Plans had been afoot to use a site off Watery Lane in Ashbourne, but these have been put to an end so that the county council can push ahead with plans for a bypass around the town.

In November, district councillors gave officers the go ahead to start a hunt on the open market to buy a site to use for travellers – after ruling out all existing district and county council land.

The Matlock Bath site is thought to be “a more appropriate location due to the fact that it has better ground conditions, can be provided with facilities and services and provides a greater degree of safety and security for the family”.

The need for a temporary tolerable site is all the more urgent due to the lack of an approved site – meaning that the traveller family are legally classed as homeless.

This means the council must carry out prevention and relief work and provide interim accommodation.

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

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

Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service