Derbyshire Dales councillors reject latest proposals for temporary Traveller sites

Two homeless Traveller families in the Derbyshire Dales will not be given seven sites which they will temporarily be allowed to stay on, meaning they can stay anywhere in the district.

Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 1:20 pm
Updated Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 2:26 pm

Derbyshire Dales District Council debated long into the night at Wirksworth Leisure Centre on Tuesday, July 27, as they considered several courses of action to both protect the two specific families and also bear in mind the interests of other residents.

The meeting saw Conservative councillors quash debates on giving the Traveller families seven specific designated sites which they could stay on for up to eight weeks at a time.

Council officers had put forward the seven temporary sites – where the families have previously stayed – in a bid to alleviate stress for the families and for the surrounding communities.

Derbyshire Dales District Council has rejected proposals for 'temporary tolerated' Traveller sites.

There is also a need to temporarily accommodate the families, whom the council has a legal duty to support, while the district continues to secure a permanent Traveller site – an issue it has failed to solve for around 40 years.

The sites put forward for ‘temporarily tolerated’ encampments were: the Agricultural Business Centre in Bakewell; Old Station Close, Rowsley; Matlock station car park; Artists Corner car park, Matlock Bath; Matlock Bath station car park; land at Middleton Road, Wirksworth; and Fishpond Meadows overspill car park in Ashbourne.

Tim Braund, the council’s director of regulatory services, stressed to councillors that providing the specific sites would give the authority “a degree of control over the situation that does not currently exist.”

He said that without the temporary sites “[the two Traveller families] can stay wherever they want to and we would have to leave them there.”

Mr Braund explained that without an approved site to move Travellers to, from places in which they have camped, the council has no legal ability to relocate them. He said that court bailiffs will not evict Travellers from a site without another to direct them to.

Of the two families which the council has a legal responsibility for, one is currently staying on the Matlock station car park and the other is staying in Bakewell at the Agricultural Business Centre.

Coun Tony Morley said the move to ignore the proposals for seven temporary sites was to “focus the minds” of council officers purely on getting a permanent Traveller site solidified.

The current proposed permanent site is a small patch – and former landfill – in Knabhall Lane, near Tansley.

Councillors approved plans to spend £25,000 investigating potentially harmful substances coming from the former landfill and whether this would make it unviable for a Traveller site.

These investigations are to take three to four months, said Rob Coggins, the council’s director of housing.

Knabhall Lane was approved as the council’s earmarked temporary and permanent Traveller site nearly a year ago – in September 2020 – but Mr Braund said it could take “many months” for a permanent site to be delivered, and that it was currently “not usable”.

Mr Braund said the families themselves would rather they were allowed to stay at sites longer while the residents in each are want shorter limits on stays, saying the eight weeks at each temporary site represented a compromise.

Lee Gardner, the council’s legal services manager, updated the authority on the current dispute over the ownership of the Knabhall Lane site.

He said the Land Registry had accepted that the district council was the legal owner, after being presented with a number of deeds and a barristers’ opinion.

Coun Peter O’Brien said a law firm was currently challenging the ownership of the site, with Mr Gardner saying the case “isn’t in court yet”.

Mr Gardner said the council was “in a very, very strong position to defend any dissenting voices.”

Mr Coggins said the Knabhall Lane site is “suboptimal” and that the council “has not got the best site” but has been unable to find a better one after years of costly searches.

Council leader Garry Purdy told the meeting: “We have spent years looking for sites, there is no perfect site. Nobody wants these people and these families do not want pushing around all the time.

“We don’t push people out of their homes if they commit crimes, so why should we punish the families like this?”

He said he has dealt with Travellers since he was a police officer in the 1960s and said there was “a mix of good and bad”.

Coun Purdy added “it is an accident of birth” and “these poor people don’t ask to be born as a Traveller, they are the most persecuted in the land”.

The council approved plans to spend £10,000 installing height barriers on a number of “vulnerable” council-owned sites in order to prevent access by Travellers. Sites include Temple car park, Matlock Bath; the Agricultural Business Centre, Bakewell; and the Lido car park in Matlock.

Officers say that height barriers cannot be installed at all council-owned car parks in the district because the authority “must ensure that adequate provision remains for the parking of high-sided vehicles”.

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