Public views ‘will be heard’ in row over travellers site

Sites across Ashington and Blyth that are being proposed as potential travellers sites. Ennerdale Road, Blyth.

Sites across Ashington and Blyth that are being proposed as potential travellers sites. Ennerdale Road, Blyth.

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NO action will be taken to set up a transit site for travellers in Blyth until the concerns of several hundred local people have been considered.

Northumberland County Council leader Coun Jeff Reid has pledged to listen to the views of residents, but he stopped short of deferring a decision on the project when it went before the ruling Liberal Democrat executive last Wednesday.

Members agreed to seek planning permission for the eight-pitch site on county-owned industrial land at Ennerdale Road, on the River Blyth estuary, and delegate other decisions to the Affordable Housing Project Board.

Earlier, the council’s petitions committee had sat for the first time to receive a 677-name petition protesting at the scheme.

Petitioners, aided by ward members councillors Grant and Susan Davey, had spent an hour outlining their worries.

Coun Pat Scott, who chaired the committee, said the objectors believed the signatures were only the tip of the iceberg of opposition in Blyth.

She told the executive: “As a committee, we felt we would like to recommend to the executive that they defer the decision and look at sites that have the least impact on residents.”

Coun Reid said: “I think the executive is minded to accept the recommendations, but need scrutiny to go through the process and make sure it was conducted properly.”

He said the scrutiny committee would also “have a proper look” at other potential sites mentioned before any action was taken.

Coun Scott had told the executive: “They [the petitioners] feel Blyth has enough problems with anti-social behaviour and this proposal will lead to more.

“No public consultation has taken place and there is a worry more sites could be constructed in Blyth.”

The objectors disputed the proposed site was on a traditional migratory route and felt the list of potential sites was biased and that travellers could get priority at schools above local families.

Coun Grant Davey had said the area had enough problems already and these would be exacerbated by a transit site.

Executive member for housing, Coun Tom Brechany, said one purpose of a transit site was to give the council better powers to move unauthorised campers from roadsides.

Blyth Town Council has complained that the county has not explored the idea of a site in the west of the county to accommodate travellers heading to and from Cumbria.

It believed families would stay permanently at the new site and businesses on the nearby industrial estate could be harmed.

The county argues the need is in the south east because of travellers’ migratory routes and a well run site should not disrupt businesses.

Gypsy Council spokesman Joseph Jones said: “If the local people get together and if they are successful in their pleas to stop the site being built there, then of course they have got no right to complain afterwards if people end up on the village green.

“If they want to object to a specific place, fine, they put up an alternative place.

“If it is a problem with people camping in an inappropriate place, they need to deal with it and the way to do that is to provide a transit site.”

The national Homes and Communities Agency has allocated £311,285 to the county towards the new site and three extra permanent pitches elsewhere.

The work must be done by March 2015.

About a year ago, parish and town councils in the south east were asked their views on 15 prospective sites.

This was whittled down to four – Ellington Road, Ashington; Coniston Road, Newsham Road and Ennerdale Road, all Blyth, the last being the recommendation of officers.

Following the meeting, Coun Grant Davey asked scrutiny committee chairman Coun Glen Sanderson to hold a public meeting at a large venue in Blyth to discuss the site and how Ennerdale Road came to be selected.