Plans to shut down the controversial Greenacres travellers’ site could be put on hold – because its residents have promised to behave better.
Central Beds Council officers received the pledge from a group of six travellers, said to be representing the whole site, when it met with them face to face during the formal consultation on the CBC’s £9m proposal to close Greenacres.
It was in July that the LBO first reported how CBC had devised the plan to acquire both Greenacres and nearby The Stables in Little Billington – if necessary by compulsory purchase – in order to establish a replacement council-owned and managed gypsy and traveller site.
It follows years of Greenacres hitting 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. Although there are 56 authorised plots, 96 have now been confirmed to exist there.
With the August to November consultation period on its plan to close down the travellers’ sites over, the council’s Executive will consider the next move at its meeting on Tuesday, December 5.
But it appears the travellers have bought themselves more time, as officers are now suggesting “robust” council action to make the sites compliant with planning and licencing regulations, safe and well maintained, well managed and accessible to the authorities.
It is only if this doesn’t work that the council will look to press ahead with its original plan to acquire Greenacres and The Stables and build a new council-owned and managed site.
During the consultation, CBC had a total of 382 questionnaire responses, with a clear majority in favour of the option to acquire the site – although the travellers who responded by the form did not support this option. There was also “significant” public concern about the £9m cost of the council’s plan.
The Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group Gypsy and Travellers Health Inequalities Report pointed out to CBC that the site residents may have lower literacy levels than the general population.
The report to Executive reveals: “Therefore, to ensure that all residents had an opportunity to take part in the consultation, a team of eight officers visited the site to hand deliver the questionnaires and consultation documents to each accessible plot. Officers engaged with residents and assisted with the completion of questionnaires on the day and answered questions from residents on site at the time.”
A total of 16 people contacted the council on the dedicated consultation phoneline, with the majority identifying themselves as land owners or residents at The Stables and Greenacres,
The report states: “The majority of people who contacted the phoneline confirmed that they were not in favour of the council’s preferred option. The main issues related to land ownership, planning permissions, utility connections and homelessness. Some residents from the site have articulated very clearly that they would not move onto a new council owned gypsy and traveller site.
“On October 9, a meeting was held with six site residents. During the meeting officers sought clarification as to whether the residents were able to talk on behalf of all residents on the site. The residents confirmed that this was the case.
“Residents explained that they did not support the option to develop a new council managed site as they felt settled and did not want to sell their land and lose their homes. The council has established a productive and open dialogue with these key site residents. There is agreement on the need for change and residents were keen to work with the council on resolving issues on the site and maintaining longer term improvements and made several suggestions.”
CBC points out that the consultation has opened new dialogue with the travellers and seen them pledging to work with the council in the future.
But the report adds: “If the council and partners can work with residents this would be the most cost effective approach and possibly be more effective at resolving the issues in the longer term as the residents will be making changes themselves rather than having them imposed on them.
“However, the council has also been clear that the issues identified on this site must improve.
“The council’s position on the need for improvement has not changed and the acquisition of the site continues to be a viable long term option to address the issues on this site. Despite a range of multi-agency approaches to resolve the problems no tangible progress has been made and the situation continues to deteriorate.
“Improvements on the site must be made and they must be sustainable in the longer term. Using the available legislation to resolve the issues identified will prove challenging but it is essential that significant improvements are seen in the coming months.
“The level of improvement needed and timescales would be agreed by a Council Project Board involving key stakeholders.
“If sufficient improvement is not made on the site the council should then proceed with the original proposal to acquire the site.”
Councillors will also be asked at the Executive meeting to agree to the £9m cost being accounted for in the council’s Medium Term Financial Plan.
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