Central Beds Council came under fire for years of inaction over the Greenacres and The Stables travellers sites in Little Billington at last Tuesday’s Executive meeting.
Frustrated villagers say their complaints about anti-social behaviour by the travellers have been ignored by the authority, leading the situation to spiral out of control and leaving CBC to now formulate its plan to spend a whopping £9m to rectify the problems.
CBC has put its proposal to acquire both sites and establish a replacement council-owned and managed gypsy and traveller site on hold while it gives the travellers the chance to turn over a new leaf.
Little Billington resident Mr Barr told councillors that Billington Parish Council and residents of Little Billington, Billington and Slapton had all highlighted concerns about travellers’ behaviour before, but said nothing was done.
He said a consequence of this were the council’s proposals to spend an “obscene” amount of money, but he said it was impossible to support the idea of a replacement site without knowing where it might be put.
Mr Barr added: “I am really not interested on what happens on the traveller sites. They are entitled to their privacy in their own homes.
“The unsocial behaviour we are concerned about is what happens off the sites - verbal abuse, threats of violence, speeding and the rubbish.
“How are you going to address these problems. If you do have the ability, why wait until the new site is built.
“The time to start was 10 years ago, so how are you going to solve the problems of anti-social behaviour?”
Another villager, Mr Swain, continued the attack on CBC, and said both himself and Mr Barr had suffered air gun pellets being fired through their lounge windows.
He said: “I don’t think you fully appreciate the damage that your policy of locating 50% of the entire traveller population in Beds within a few miles of Little Billington has had. We are minority. We are outnumbered two to one. The idea of spending millions of pounds on improving living conditions of travelleers is offensive to local people.
“Toddbury Farm doesn’t exist in this report. It’s had a murder and anti-social behaviour, but the report has ignored it as if it wasn’t there.
“There is nothing in this plan that you are going to reduce the traveller population in this area. A new facility at Little Billington would be the obvious place to expand and that would be even worst for us.”
Billington Parish Council chairman Helen Thompson said she was dismayed that the consultation had offered up no other potential sites beyond the village.
She said: “£9m on travellers who make demands on our services yet contribute little.”
She described the money as a “colossal sum” but said it could be a good investment when it was reported the first slavery raid on the site had cost £1m alone.”
She added that Billington Parish Council had provided detailed and photographic evidence about activities at the site, but had “there veracity questioned and denied” by CBC.
“Until recently Billington Parish Council has been regarded as an irritating nuisance who would not go away,” said. “We refused to be patronised into believing that history and tradition alone were the root causes for the appalling behaviour we experienced.”
She said parish council was prepared to grant the travellers time to fall into line but said: “To date there is nothing to suggest that the majority of travellers are even ready to recognise the need for change when only 17 responded to the consultation. So please forgive my scepticism.
“We have been waiting a very long time for CBC to show strong leadership and our patience is almost exhausted. However we will work with you to allow for this opportunity for change but this must have a strict timeline with measurable progress checked at regular intervals.
“The people of Little Billington are overwhelmed by the number of travellers in their village. If you can sense desperation in that word you are finally beginning to have some understanding how villagers feel.”
Cllr Ian Dalgarno told the meeting that potential land for a new site had yet to be decided. Regarding including Toddbury Farm in the process, he said: “We approved their planning application and we can enforce conditions on there. Greenacres was approved by the Planning Inspectorate and we don’t have the level of authority to take actions we would like to.”
Cllr Briar Spurr said: “We must do something even though £9m is an obscene amount of money. The first thing I’d like to see is some effect on the anti-social behaviour that is around there and does come from those sites.
“I had a report that horses have been released again on to a field that was growing turf. You try selling turf with horses feet in it. That was by cutting the fence and it wasn’t the first time. It was the 50th or 60th time.”