Fury over 'unwanted' traveller camp plans for Wolverhampton
A petition has been launched to block a proposed travellers site in Wolverhampton – as city councillors had their say on the controversial plans.
Wolverhampton Council wants to spend £1 million on developing land off Gorsebrook Road in Whitmore Reans, which would cater for up to 13 traveller families at a time.
The plot near Dunstall Hill industrial estate – a former landfill site which council bosses once earmarked for a nature reserve – is currently covered in trees.
Residents have given the plans a frosty reception, with many raising concerns over the destruction of nature and traffic congestion, as well as questioning the logic behind catering for traveller families in an already deprived area.
WATCH: Residents react to traveller camp plans
Wolverhampton Council insists the St Peter's ward plot, which is the size of a football pitch, is the most suitable spot in the city for a transit site after three other potential locations were ruled out.
The authority says it must have a transit site in place as part of an agreement with the High Court following a ruling blocking illegal traveller encampments at 60 sites across the city.
Bosses say the £960,000 outlay on the site will lead to savings in the long run, with illegal camps currently costing taxpayers around £350,000 a year.
Interactive map shows site of the land:
A petition against the site has been started by resident Leslie Stamps and has already been signed by hundreds of people.
She says the plans will contaminate the land and reduce property values in the area.
'People will not want to live here'
"The importance of a ‘transit traveller site’ is recognised but we are strongly against the development of such a site on this proposed land as it is so close to residential property and businesses," she said.
"The area of St Peter’s ward is already being deprived of assets and is slowly becoming a place where people no longer want to live."
She called on the council to reconsider the proposals.
Ward Labour councillor Lynne Moran, who lives in Bilston, said she "absolutely understands" residents' opposition to the site, and called on the council to plough more resources into the area.
"The issue is that illegal incursions have caused a lot of grief and cost a lot of money in the city in recent times," she said.
"The injunction has only been permitted on the grounds that we have a transit site in place. That's about us trying to be fair to travelling communities and giving them a facility for them to go to when they are passing through.
"The case for a transit site is really clear, but when it comes to finding a suitable site, we are asking 'why us?'
"St Peter's is already an area that has suffered over the years in terms of public service cuts and investment in infrastructure.
"I think there may be other sites that officers have looked at, but the cost is going to be getting on for £2-3 million.
"My view is that people should express their anger and ask their important questions at the public meeting – without discriminating against the traveller community.
"When we have finished being angry, and all the facts are in order, the planning committee can make their decision.
"There is work to be done and we must be absolutely sure this is the right place for the site before a final decision is made.
"But if St Peter's does end up taking one for the team as it were, then we shall expect some resources back in from the money that is saved."
Former council leader and fellow ward councillor Roger Lawrence, a member of the planning committee which will rule over the proposals, said: "It is vitally important that the opinions of residents are taken into account when the final decision is made."
It is understood that the site was first put forward by council bosses around five weeks ago. It is considered the cheapest option for development as the ground contains no contamination.
Plans to transform it into a nature reserve in 2007-08 bit the dust after Labour lost control of the authority.
But some residents say the site is still teeming with wildlife.
Sohail Khan, a city Conservative councillor who lives in the area, was due to attend a residents' meeting over the plans last night.
He said: "This development poses a serious danger to wildlife.
"It seems ridiculous that while the council is declaring a climate emergency, they are planning to build on our green spaces.
"They need to look very carefully at the damage this unwanted camp will cause and explore other options."
Wolverhampton South West Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate Stuart Anderson, who is backing the residents' campaign, said: "At the very least there needs to be some consultation with residents over what can be done with the land.
"We'll be campaigning hard to stop this plan."
A meeting for local residents and business to discuss the plans will take place at the Holiday Inn at Wolverhampton Racecourse on October 7, from 6.30pm to 7.30pm.