HUNDREDS of furious residents demanded that councillors reconsider ‘inappropriate’ and ‘shambolic’ plans to place Gypsy and Travellers’ sites on their doorsteps.
On Wednesday (September 7) more than 300 people packed into the Armstrong Room at Cheshire West and Chester Council HQ as council executives considered passing a report for five new sites in Cheshire.
Chaos erupted as outraged residents living close to the proposed sites in Bumpers Lane, Chester and Oakwood Farm, Saughall shouted and heckled slating the process as a ‘disgusting shambles’ and a ‘disgrace’, with police attending to help calm the crowds while one group staged a walk out in protest.
Residents shouted down councillors comments as ‘waffle’ saying they had ‘abandoned tax payers and settled communities’ and slated the lack of public consultation as a ‘shambles’ and an outright ‘disgrace’.
Plans to erect a transit site, including 15-pitches, on Green Belt land in Oakwood Farm, Saughall met the greatest opposition with residents objecting to the pitches saying they would ‘destroy the landscape and character of the Green Belt and their community’.
Despite more than two hours of lengthy arguments and debate, Executive members voted to note the consultation document, by Ekosgen, allowing the proposed council-owned sites in Oakwood Farm, Saughall; Bumpers Lane, off Sealand Road; Rossfield Road in Ellesmere Port; Buildwas Road, Neston; Blakeden Lane/Browning Way in Winsford; and Road One in Winsford to go through the planning process.
Councillor for Saughall and Mollington Cllr Brian Crowe said that the very idea of considering the land for the pitches contradicted the consultants report which discounted all Green Belt sites due to their protected status.
“The demand for these pitches is like a piece of string, it is as long or as short as you want to make it,” said Cllr Crowe.
“I am informed that we already have at least 90 caravans on sites with temporary planning permission due to expire in around the next two years. These pitches are across Helsby, Dunham-on-the-Hill, Elton and Mickle Trafford.
“So in two years time we know that these new council sites will be full and have waiting lists. This will be a never ending cycle, will this mean that in two years time we will be back here again with councillors looking for another two, three or four million pounds worth of tax payers money to expand the sites, money which should be used on elderly people and children’s services?”
One resident slated the system as ‘undemocratic’ saying: “We only heard about these sites last week and yet you are planning to vote on a decision which will effect us for years tonight.”
Anger erupted as one resident said that the pitches would cost at least £2 million of tax payers money to develop, with one resident saying that a transit site would see Travellers’ only stay for 14 days on the land in Saughall.
“We do not have to provide a transit site. You are asking to provide facilities for people who are passing through our region, we ought to be looking after our old and young people, not people who do not even live in this area.”
Concerns were raised by Paul Jenkins, chair of governors at Saughall All Saints Primary School that the transit site would have a detrimentally negative effect on the quality of education for both local and Traveller children, saying: “We are already over capacity, and people in the community want their children to go to school close by and with their friends.
“We have no experience of working with Travellers or people in transit, we have some very real concerns and are wondering whether the council will reassure us that we will help us to identify the challenges and over come issues identified with these changes.”
Following the debate which saw accusations of incompetence directed at councillors who were slated for failing to identify Oakwood Farm as a Green Belt site, incorrectly deeming it a brown belt site after years of use by the Highways Agency.
Officers and councillors also faced criticism after failing to notice that the site in Neston was already under a ‘gentleman's agreement’ for expansion of local businesses and would have a detrimental impact on local trade if a site was developed there.
Cllr Herbert Manley, Executive Member for Prosperity admitted that mistakes had been made, with consultation not being carried out as transparently as it should have been.
Cllr Manley said: “We need to take these pitches forward into the planning process, but we need to do some work before we get there.
“We are at the very start of this process and there will be considerable consultation during the planning process.”
Leader of the Council Mike Jones said that the situation was impossible and explained that the council had to fulfil the government quota of 32-45 pitches so that sites on Green Belt land would stop being approved on appeal.
“We have a legal obligation to ensure that we provide suitable sites for Gypsys and Travellers.
“Currently the tax payers have to foot a huge bill to remove the sites and clean up the Green Belt land after illegal sites. We have to do something to put an end to that.”
At the end of the meeting the Executive noted the report which originally saw over 1,300 sites shortlisted down to 299 for councillors to consider as potential sites.