Inquiry hears of community tensions

PHOTO: NEIL CROSS'Traveller Patty Linfoot at the site on Hut Lane, Heath Charnock, Chorley
PHOTO: NEIL CROSS'Traveller Patty Linfoot at the site on Hut Lane, Heath Charnock, Chorley

A public inquiry into a traveller camp in Chorley has heard how tensions between Romany gypsy families and local residents are at an all-time high.

The three-day inquiry into the site, on Hut Lane, Heath Charnock, is trying to reach a conclusion into a two-and-a-half year battle by three families of Romany gypsies to remain on the land, which is classed as green belt.

The Linfoot family is appealing Chorley Council’s decision to refuse retrospective planning permission for eight caravans, storage units, and stables.

Ian Ponter, speaking on behalf of some residents of Hut Lane, said the appeal was largely the same as one which was refused in 2010.

He said: “There is no material difference in the overall level of harm of this appeal scheme when compared to the last.

“The views of the residents is that the latest appeal stage has simply cemented their sense of mistrust. There is a real sense of grievance for the way they perceive they have been treated, and this has heightened tensions.”

He said any integration of the families with their immediate neighbours had been made difficult due to the site being fenced off, and changes to the plans since their refusal two years ago did not go far enough.

“No local need (for a traveller site) has been established by the appellant.

“The appeal site was a well vegetated site free from signs of development (prior to occupation).

“That may be contrasted with the state of the site now, with fencing, gate pillars, caravans and utility blocks.”

Jonathan Easton, representing Chorley Council, said the fresh appeal amounted to ‘another bite of the cherry’.

The authority is currently seeking to prosecute the families for failing to comply with enforcement notices.

He said: “It has always been Chorley Council’s case that the merits of maintaining a caravan site at Hut Lane were considered comprehensively by Inspector Fox just under two years ago.

“Mr Fox’s rejection of the case was challenged and was roundly rejected - the challenge was found to be unarguable.

“The enforcement notices issued by Chorley Council remain extant, such that with each passing day the site occupants commit a criminal offence.”

Mark Willers, representing the Linfoot family, said: “They have a right to respect not just for their homes and families but also for their traditional way of life.

“I will contend that there is a local need for gypsy sites both in Chorley and in the neighbouring boroughs.

“It is clear they are responsible and decent citizens..”

Mr Willers also asked that if the families were refused permission to stay on the land, they could be granted a temporary stay-of-execution until they found another site.

A decision for the inquiry is set to be reached by May 11.