A FORMER caravan park near Ashington has been dropped from a list of potential sites for travellers after its inclusion sparked an outcry among town and parish councillors.
Riverside Park, off Wellhead Dean Road, was on a list of prospective stopover sites until county council chiefs backed down in the face of opposition from Ashington and Choppington’s town and parish councils.
Following a meeting with a delegation from the two councils last Thursday, officers agreed that the site could not be made available to travellers because it was on the market as a tourist venue.
County council leader Jeff Reid, of Plessey in Blyth, said: “While we wish to achieve a sale, the prime consideration will be to secure the necessary level of investment to improve facilities and to bring the site back into use as a tourist facility and touring caravan park.”
Brian Gallacher, vice-chairman of Ashington Town Council, said: “We were extremely disappointed that, despite previous assurances, the possibility again arose that the caravan site was to be considered by the county council for inappropriate use as a transit site for gypsies and travellers.
“The clear statement from Coun Reid should now put an end to that possibility.
“However, it’s fair to say that concerns will only really be allayed by the return of tourists and the evidence of real investment in the site.”
Officers agreed on reflection that its use as a transit site there was “not achievable” because people valued it for recreation and opposed the urgent accommodation of an extended family of travellers in several caravans there last winter.
Ashington town councillors claim its prospects of developing the park for tourism have been blighted by its temporary inclusion on the list.
The sale of the county council-owned land was suspended while the travellers were there and a prospective deal then fell through.
It is now being lined up to be sold at auction.
Town councillor John Wilson told last week’s meeting of the authority that he feared it could become the north east’s answer to Essex’s Dale Farm.
“If it goes to auction, a group of travellers can buy it,” he said.
“That land has planning permission for caravans. We would never get them off.
“What I don’t want people to think is that I’m anti-travellers, because I’m not. That was one of the few tourism sites we had.”
Last week’s meeting, held at Ashington Leisure Centre, was told by clerk Mike Slaughter that the county council had a legal duty to consider the rights of the gypsy, Roma and travelling communities.
After a family was placed at Riverside Park in November, townsfolk raised a 675-name protest petition.
The town council has now been assured those circumstances were exceptional and the site’s tourism future will not be affected, he said.
Town council chairman John McCormack said: “Despite the assurances we had from the county council that that was an essential measure and it would never be used as a permanent transit site, it appears on a list of possibilities.”
Coun Louis Brown said: “If there are no stringent planning conditions on it, anybody could buy that site.
“I’m not trying to scaremonger here, but we should see that site is taken off that list and not even considered as a transit site.”
Coun Wilson feared the two Blyth sites listed as most suitable would be dropped and Riverside Park would be chosen.
It was revealed at a meeting of the county council’s south east area committee that the planned sale of the park, now vacant for a third summer, had collapsed.
The county council has been given £311,285 by the Homes and Communities Agency to pay for eight transit pitches for travellers, with amenity blocks, in south east Northumberland.
The four sites now thought most suitable are in Ennerdale Road, Coniston Road and Newsham Road, all in Blyth, and Ellington Road at Ashington.