Travellers arrive as site row flares

RICHARD BATSON Gipsy travellers arrived on a seafront car park in north Norfolk - just hours after the local council debated how to deal with the controversial issue of finding suitable transit sites.

RICHARD BATSON

Gipsy travellers arrived on a seafront car park in north Norfolk - just hours after the local council debated how to deal with the controversial issue of finding suitable transit sites.

Half a dozen vans spent Monday night on Cromer's Runton Road car park, but had thinned out to just three last night.

They are from a Suffolk-based travelling family, who are holidaying in the area, and have told officials they will move on within a few days.

Their arrival came as the hot potato of where to put travellers transit sites were debated by councillors, in front of angry villagers whose parish was earmarked as a possible location.

But last night council officials said the incident showed the need to find official sites - as it helped the authorities deal with unofficial visits.

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Once transit sites are established it gives more powers to move vans which descend on unsuitable sites - meaning incidents can be resolved inside hours rather than days.

In the meantime, there could be the annual cat and mouse game, at public expense, between travellers and officials, which can require court orders taking more than week to obtain.

North Norfolk District Council's environmental health manager, Steve Hems, who is responsible to traveller liaison, said officials were assessing the incursion at Cromer, and making a decision on whether to tolerate it or seek action to move them on.

The family had co-operated by tucking their vans into one corner of the car park field. They had been advised about some noisy dogs, and that they could face being ticketed if they did not pay parking fees, said Mr Hems.

If there was an official site nearby it would give the council “more options” in dealing with the incident.

Pressing for a move to an official site was “not automatic” and would also follow an appraisal, but it could be achieved the same day, depending on police resources, he added.

Two sites need to be found in north Norfolk - with preferred sites named near Wood-Dene school at Aylmerton and Fakenham football ground - both on the main A148 road.

The locations were suggested in a new local development framework (LDF) planning blueprint, but on Monday the district council cabinet agreed to take the travellers sites out of the LDF public consultation timetable, to enable fuller public debate on the sensitive issue.

Last night the chairman of Aylmerton parish council John Rampling said no-one doubted the need for such sites, but that the one on their doorstep was ill-conceived because of its proximity to the school, and location next to the A148 where a string of other developments had been objected to by highways officials because of road safety fears.

He stressed the local opposition had been made objectively, with councillors “avoiding the emotive issues” surrounding travellers sites.