A crime-ridden traveller site near Leighton Buzzard could finally be shut down by Central Bedfordshire Council after a string of regulation breaches.
Greenacres at Little Billington has regularly hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons with reports of crime, fly-tipping, open sewage and theft of water and electricity supplies.
It was notably the centre of a human slavery scandal uncovered in 2011, which saw 24 people rescued.
Now, CBC officers have recommended acquiring both Greenacres and nearby The Stable – if necessary by compulsory purchase – in order to establish a council-owned and managed gypsy and traveller site.
A CBC report stated: “There are more people living on the site than there should be. The original permissions granted across the two sites were for 56 plots. In January 2017 when the gypsy and traveller count was completed the total number of plots was 96.”
Although CBC refused the site planning permission back in 2002, this was overturned by the Planning Inspectorate (PI) on appeal. Conditions imposed by the PI have been described as unworkable by the council, leading to the current chaos at the site.
It is also unclear who now owns the land and a compulsory purchase order may be required. The overall cost of the project is estimated at around £9m and it is due to be discussed at a meeting of CBC’s executive on August 1.
The full recommendation is to:
l Acquire both Greenacres and The Stables, using a CPO if required.
l Acquire land close to the current site to build a new council-owned and managed gypsy and traveller site.
l On completion of the new site, dismantle the existing sites and apply for change of use.
The council’s report states: “The recommended option is supported by the various partner agencies involved in responding to the ongoing issues.
“People on the sites have illegally ‘tapped’ into the water supply which has led to water pressure problems in the village which Anglian Water has had to address.
“Private domestic electricity supplies have been accessed by people on the sites, running up significant bills for the occupier.
“The field adjacent to the sites, owned by Summerleys Farm, has had ongoing issues with sewage being emptied and piped onto the field ... fly-tipping has damaged the land, eroded the working acreage of some fields and farm machinery has been damaged because of it.”
A number of fires were lit on the field in August 2016, requiring the fire service to be called out. The report points out that had the fires spread to the overcrowded site, there would have been significant harm and possibly deaths.
The report goes on: “There have been three police operations involving arrests in relation to Modern Day Slavery. In 2011, 24 vulnerable people were identified as being kept on the site through coercion, intimidation and abuse.
“In July 2012 four members of a family living on site were found guilty of keeping workers in a state of servitude and forcing them to perform unpaid work. Despite arrests being made, slavery continued and further operations were held in 2014 with seven people rescued and again in 2015 with further arrests made.
“Residents of Billington have told council officers that they are ‘fearful’ going about their everyday lives and the constant anti-social behaviour and criminality, including intimidation and threats, erodes their quality of life on a day-to-day basis.”
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