WATCH: Fury over traveller transit site plan laid bare at meeting
Tensions ran high as a consultation meeting over plans for a travellers transit site in Wolverhampton descended into chaos and confusion, with one attendee saying it was the "most unprofessional thing" he had ever seen.
Council chiefs insisted the site chosen - off Gorsebrook Road in Whitmore Reans – was the only suitable one for such a site.
But angry neighbours voiced strong opposition, demanding answers to questions over what other sites had been looked at and the impact it would have on the local area.
People living near the site flocked to the Holiday Inn at Wolverhampton Racecourse to share their views on the £1 million plan hoping to get some answers to their questions.
Councillors and officers from Wolverhampton Council were heckled during a power point presentation, where they highlighted Sandwell Council as an example of a successful site.
WATCH how the passionate meeting erupted
Neighbours said they were left with "more questions" after the meeting, which was extended half-an-hour, and was bugged by technical issues – such as microphones not working properly.
Arguments broke out at the meeting, with people shouting to get their thoughts and questions across.
Council officials urged people to wait until the question and answer segment of the meeting, but residents dismissed it as being "one way" dialogue.
Councillor Steve Evans, cabinet member for city environment, urged people to show more "respect" after councillors were criticised.
And Councillor Lynne Moran, who represents the area, said she would not stand up and be "shouted down" by people.
Head of business services Colin Parr, who was heckled as he mentioned the success of Sandwell's sites, added: "I appreciate this is a matter of concern and a matter of interests, but all I would ask is for people to bear with the presentation."
Conservative MP candidate Stuart Anderson said: "To see elected officials have a go at residents regardless of what they are saying is very unprofessional. It's the most unprofessional thing I've seen."
'Out of the blue'
Residents explained their concerns and their upset over how the council had handled the consultation process.
They also spoke about their fears for the future of their homes, neighbourhood and Whitmore Reans should the transit site be created.
Arthur Benton, who lives on Shetland Close with partner Ann Schorah, said: “If we come to sell the house in future it will depreciate in value.
“If you move trees in front of our house we will face the entrance to the proposed site.
"Our fear is anti-social behaviour – and the travellers bring baggage with them.
“It came out of the blue, we had a letter through the door from the council.
"We hope they’ll eventually scrap it because of a bunch of reasons. We don’t want it here.”
Gemma Taylor, from Glentworth Gardens, said: “We have been blindsided by the local authority regarding these plans without consultation with ourselves.
"We’re concerned about the lack of investment in our community and the removal of an area of natural beauty.
"The community in a matter of days has garnered over 1,000 signatures so far and we will not rest until we succeed in our goals.”
The plans have been met with strong criticism by politicians as well as neighbours.
A petition has so far attracted more than 1,000 signatures from people calling on the authority to scrap the idea.
An impassioned plea
Resident, Peter Holmes MBE, who was honoured for dedicating his life to sport in the city, silenced the crowds of people and officials with his speech.
The 87-year-old, who has lived in the area for around 30 years, said: "I suppose when I look round here I know most of you as school children or as parents going to Dunstall Hill.
"I have seen you grow up, I've handled some of your problems, I probably know you better than any elected member.
"People of Dunstall Hill are the most delightful people in Wolverhampton – there's nothing wrong with them at all.
"All you [residents] have done is be let down by our authority, Wolverhampton, which has had Dunstall Hill deprived.
"With this scheme, it will even lower ore the deprivation of the area.
"I must say, I have friends here, this is the most unprofessional presentation that I have ever encountered."
The room, which was boisterous because of the ongoing rows, was silenced as the pensioner continued.
He added: "As officials you should hold your heads in shame.
"All that I want, and I'm sure I speak for everyone in this room, all we want is a truthful answer to our questions.
"We are suspicious of anything you say to us because the way you have spoken to us this evening.
"There's been no evidence of truth in what you have said to us.
"Again, what I'm most pleased for is the fact there has been such a turnout for the meeting – I'm sure you didn't expect this.
"But, ladies and gentleman, please remember this – we are the real Dunstall Hill, not political parties, not officials – we, the residents living in Dunstall Hill."
Mr Holmes is chairman of Whitmore Reans Connect and was a former chairman of Dunstall Hill Primary School for 23 years.
The 87-year-old, who lives in nearby Glentworth Gardens, added: "There's some elected councillors I look on as friends and I hope I have not lost that friendship– I disagree with you, but I've not fallen out with you."
Mr Holmes received a standing ovation for his words by a room filled with hundreds of people.
Move to allay fears over trees
Hundreds of trees will not be cut down under plans for a travellers site in Wolverhampton, officials have said
Environmental bosses say trees around the edge of the football-sized area on Gorsebrook Road, which has been earmarked for development, would not face the axe.
Instead the area would be hollowed out at the centre, with grassland at the heart removed to provide room for up to 13 families.
And now the council has said the proposals – if they were approved – would see the area "enhanced" with more trees planted.
It will create a "screen" for residents and travellers in a bid to protect them both from view.
But it was met by scepticism by residents in the area at a meeting on Monday, with heckles and laughter at the claim.
Martin Dye, from the city's regeneration and environment team, said: "There are certain processes you go through to do with any development.
"We would ask for a preliminary ecology report we do know there are badger sites in Dunstall Hill.
"We want to make sure there's no issues.
"There will be some removal of trees from the centre of the site.
"Around the edge and the slope to the trading estate, all of that vegetation which has grown on the site – all of those trees have grown up and they will stay, they will not be removed because they will form some form of screening."
Mr Dye added: "If the scheme went ahead and we removed the vegetation, there's scope for lots more planting and you would end up with more trees than what could be planted in the perimeter.
"What we would do is we would enhance the area in terms of the environment – you would lose rank vegetation.
"All of the mature trees that are there around the perimeter will stay as a certainty for the wildlife which currently exists there."
Gorsebrook Road site is 'only one suitable'
Mr Parr told the meeting that a total of 10 sites had been looked at over the years, but Gorsebrook Road was the most suitable.
Three sites were shortlisted from the proposed sites, which were all rejected with two on Showell Road and one on Anchor Lane.
Two sites on Showell Road were dismissed due to the council not owning one of them, and police raising objections to current travellers already on the site there.
Anchor Lane was rejected by bosses due to it housing a waste site, leading chiefs to head back to the drawing board.
And nine further sites were drawn up for former landfill sites in the city which could house the travellers site, but these were all found to be unsuitable to the surface issues – leaving only one.
Mr Parr said: "We looked at former landfill sites and there are a number across the city, but they weren't suitable.
"The only one that was apart was Gorsebrook.
"Gorsebrook was a former quarry - it received waste in 1970 for a couple of years and it was the only one suitable for what we proposed."
Why is the transit site is being proposed?
Wolverhampton Council agreed to develop a transit site after the High Court passed an injunction against illegal traveller encampments at 60 sites across Wolverhampton.
The council’s environment boss, Councillor Steve Evans, said he understood there would be concerns about the plans, but insisted the authority needed to hold up their end of a deal.
The injunction enables the council to evict illegally-camped travellers quickly, but they must have somewhere to go, ie a transit site.
Failure to secure a site in the city would jeopardise the injunction banning illegal camps, with bosses facing a time-scale of three months to sign off on any deal.
An injunction was applied for after sites including East Park and Windsor Avenue Playing Fields were blighted by illegal camps – with travellers leaving rubbish and damaging gates.
The injunction means anyone illegally occupying the sites can be arrested and imprisoned, fined or have their assets seized.
Another drop-in session over the proposals will be held at Gatis Street Community Centre on October 16, from 3pm to 6pm.
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