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Racism row as earth mound used to stop traveller camps

By Kerry Ashdown | Stafford | News | Published:

An earth mound is being installed around a Stafford field to deter caravans from illegally parking on the land – but a town resident has accused the borough council of racism against the travelling community and failing to provide temporary sites for them in the area.

Councillor Jonathan Price at Tillington Field where a mound is being installed

Work started on the mound around the field near Tillington Hall Hotel on Friday – two weeks after caravans were parked up there.

Earlier this year another mound was installed around the field next to Holmcroft Library in a bid to stop illegal parking on it.

But Stafford resident Netta Cartwright has hit out at the measure, saying it would mean a return to parking up overnight on roadsides for gypsy, Roma and traveller families as they did several decades ago.

The mound installed around the field at Holmcroft Road earlier this year

She said: “SBC (Stafford Borough Council) have managed to find the money and wherewithal to dig an unsightly trench around the green space by the church at Holmcroft.

"The intention of this hideous mound is to deter GRT families staying overnight on their way elsewhere.

“This is yet another blatant and unashamed example of racism against the GRT community as SBC have failed for a decade to provide the overnight site required of them by law.”

Excrement and rubbish

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But Holmcroft councillors Bryan Cross and Jonathan Price said they had received a number of complaints from residents about the latest illegal encampment in Tillington, including reports of anti-social behaviour.

Councillor Price said: “If we created a parking site for them they wouldn’t use it – they just want to park up on green space and be done with it. We have to protect green spaces for residents.

“There were broken TVs left on the field. Streetscene have removed human excrement and rubbish from the field.

“I have no issue with the travelling community – I don’t want to tarnish them all with the same brush. But we have been unfortunate to have those who have no regard for anybody else and they have wasted taxpayers’ money to clean up the mess they are leaving behind.”

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Ms Cartwright has also criticised the lack of action to improve the Glover Street caravan park in Stafford town centre – despite £143,000 being earmarked for the project by the council more than two years ago.

The entrance to the Glover Street caravan site in Stafford

In November 2018 police attended the site, off Foregate Street, to support the eviction of trespassers.

Elvis Boswell, who maintains the site and lives there, has previously offered to take on the lease from the council.

He has had requests from families wanting to move on to vacant pitches, but they have been left empty.

Waiting list

Ms Cartwright said: “For many years SBC have been failing to fulfil their legal obligations under the Caravan Sites Act 1968 by running down the official site at Glover Street and since closing it off completely with only a few elderly residents left.

“There is a long waiting list yet but they are spending taxpayers money on further obstacles to GRT families having places to live and/or stay overnight.

“As well as not providing access to the legally required caravan site they are preventing them from having access to the only possible stopping place in town.

A barrier installed at the Glover Street caravan site, Stafford

"SBC are the ones at fault, not the GRT families who are prevented by police and a barrier from having access (to) the official SBC Gypsy caravan site that they are legally entitled to stay on.

“Whenever I have seen travellers’ caravans on that patch of land they look neat and tidy and only there overnight on their way to traditional fairs or relatives.”

Stafford Borough Council spokesman Will Conaghan said: “We have met with Mr Boswell recently, promised to keep him updated with developments, and have a meeting arranged with him.

“Money has been set aside for the refurbishment. We could not proceed without planning permission.

“But it is unlikely the Environment Agency, who we consult with on applications, would consent to the scheme which was currently proposed. So we are working with the EA and currently looking at flood mitigation measures for the site.”

£150,000

There is also a further £150,000 allocated towards providing a new gypsy and traveller site in Stafford Borough in the council’s capital spending programme for 2018/19 to 2021/22. But there has been no year identified for the project to take place.

Planning permission for a site at St Albans Road in Stafford was granted in January 2014, after Stafford Borough Council put forward plans for 36 permanent pitches. But the site was then unable to be used, Councillor Jack Kemp told a meeting in December 2018, because of methane gas “coming out from underneath”.

Questioning what was happening about provision of a new site he said: “That’s slipped and slipped and slipped. It’s down, but there’s no (capital) programme date.

But the meeting was told it was a new budget that had come into the programme, which was unallocated and with no approval to spend the money, and would be subject to a future report.

The proposed new site would be an additional one to that previously planned for St Albans Road, the meeting heard.

But Councillor Kemp said: “One or two of us know about St Albans, and the fact you couldn’t put people there because of the methane that was coming out from underneath. What bugs me is the fact that it’s been allowed to slip.”

Councillor Ralph Cooke said: “We haven’t identified this site – it is a new site. We have got no sites coming forward that meet the criteria – have we got any officers tasked with looking?”

He was told that this was being “progressed” and sites were being looked for and landowners and agents spoken to – but it was a matter of finding the right and appropriate site.

Kerry Ashdown

By Kerry Ashdown
@KerryAshdownLDR

Local Democracy Reporter covering Staffordshire.

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