Rowsley traveller site: incompetent handling is truly shocking

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On behalf of Rowsley residents and some 60 local businesses, the Parish Council wishes to complain in the strongest possible terms about the District Council’s handling of the temporary traveller site in Rowsley and particularly regarding its current position.

The Matlock Mercury recently reported that the family of travellers has demanded an independent site review of land to the rear of Old Station Close car park, while the authority finds a permanent site in the Dales.

However, Ms Siobhan Spencer – Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Officer had previously informed one of our parish councillors – Mr Richard Bean - that both the family and herself were firmly of the opinion that the site was totally unsuitable and indeed potentially very dangerous for all of the very same reasons that we have repeatedly put before you and that you have failed to give any satisfactory answers to whatsoever. Although you clearly refuse to address any of these issues, apparently because they don’t suit your own agenda, matters of serious Health and Safety risk simply cannot be ignored, even if the proposed site is claimed to be “temporary”.

Ms Siobhan Spencer is justifiably concerned that the site could be a severe fire risk, given the fact that there is only one point of access, across a very busy car park. In the event of a fire, do you seriously intend risking people’s lives due to nothing more concrete than a hope that drivers will park their cars responsibly, leaving adequate access for emergency vehicles? Please respond to this point.

Evidence was put before the planning committee that tests carried out on land adjacent to this site have proven that the land is contaminated with dangerous chemicals including arsenic. The contamination levels are in excess of what is considered safe for a residential area. Please explain why the District Council has not considered it necessary to carry out any soil contamination tests in view of these revelations.

One member of the traveller family is an adolescent male with special needs and he attends a special school near Ashbourne. Ms Spencer has expressed serious concerns for his safety as he has “unpredictable behaviour”.

This behaviour includes racing around at high speed on his bicycle and not stopping for anything in his way. There is every need to be greatly concerned for his safety as this is a very busy industrial estate with heavy plant and machinery including articulated lorries and long low loaders moving in and out of Old Station Close and the car park every day. Also, many of the businesses on the industrial estate operate potentially dangerous machinery, there is a fast flowing river on one side of the site and the busy A6 road on the other. Despite the site’s location on a very steep bank there was no provision for fencing in the £5,000 budget! This is very obviously not a safe site for anyone with special needs who likes to race around at high speed to be living on. This point has been brought to your attention before so we would like you to explain why it has been ignored.

When this family was evicted from the Bakewell showground they soon afterwards found a site on a farm near Ashbourne. Ms Spencer stated that the landowner and the family were very happy for them to be there and furthermore it was away from the general public. All parties were happy it would seem, except for the District Council who later evicted them from the site. Considering the fact that the District Council is responsible for the proper use of taxpayer’s funds, it is outrageous that this family was evicted, when they could have and should have been allowed to stay there at least until a suitable permanent site is prepared.

Rather than consider such a sensible proposal, it is now reported by the Matlock Mercury that the family have withdrawn their demand for an independent site review and have agreed to go on the Rowsley site provided an electricity supply is provided. The cost of installing an electricity supply is currently being assessed. The Parish Council has investigated the cost of developing this site by specialist structural engineers etc. who have given estimates in excess of £100,000. You have ignored this information and claim that Mr Mike Galsworthy’s estimate of £5,000 is a more realistic figure. We have repeatedly asked and ask you yet again for a full breakdown of these costs. Please also include the cost of providing a mains electricity supply and the proper security fencing which needs to be installed on all sides of the site.

The underhand and incompetent manner in which the council has dealt with this matter is well documented and truly shocking. The 700 plus people that signed a petition in objection to this proposal have been ignored, along with the 60 business owners and indeed the family themselves. This makes something of a mockery of the Council’s policy to operate as a democratic authority, and of the post of Head of Democratic Services.

It is essential that there is a thorough independent review of this site including inspections by the Fire Service and the Health and Safety Executive, which we are sure will reveal that the site is totally unfit for purpose. Enquiries that have been made to private companies that specialise in fire risk suggest that the most basic risk assessments would have written this off as an unsuitable site in the very early stages. Quite incredibly, and against the Government’s own guidelines in developing a traveller site, there have been no risk assessments carried out and, as far as we are aware, no inspection by the Fire Service at all.

Mr Steve Jacklin, Fire Inspector, Buxton Fire Station, informed Parish Councillor Mr Richard Bean that Derbyshire Fire Service had not been consulted or asked to comment on any proposed site at Rowsley. He also confirmed that the responsibility for producing a Fire Safety Risk Assessment for the site rests with the site owner or manager. Once the site exists, it would be the Fire Service duty to audit and inspect.

Is the council seriously prepared to risk the waste of considerable sums of taxpayers money on the development of this site, which when complete, could be condemned by the relevant authorities?

At the last Parish Council meeting Mr Jim Dixon of the Peak Park discussed the proposal for the 60 mile White Peak Loop cycle route and said that this site would be required within the proposal which, subject to grant funding being forthcoming, it is intended would be completed and operational by April 2015.

Please explain the logic and justify the cost of a 9 month temporary site, particularly when the Homesford Cottage site has been identified as a potential permanent site and can actually be purchased for less than the development costs of the Rowsley site? Is there a level where the cost of setting up a 9 month temporary site becomes unviable now that a possible permanent site is being considered?

We would also like your personal guarantee that an extension to the original 9 months planning permission will not be applied for once the initial period has passed.

The Parish Council has previously requested the Minutes of the meeting of the Environment Committee held relating to the proposed temporary traveller site at Rowsley. Only very limited information was supplied. Under the Freedom of Information Act would the council please supply the reports and Minutes of all meetings of the Environment Committee on this matter?

Considering the numerous flaws that the Parish Council has identified in this ridiculous proposal, not to mention the underhanded and incompetent dealings of the District authority, the Parish Council would appreciate answers to these questions as soon as possible and demand that the Distict Council has a comprehensive independent review carried out forthwith.

Roger Brown,Clerk.

Rowsley Parish Council