Residents in Billington are living close to “almost a war zone” because of the impact of the local gipsy and traveller community, it has been claimed.
“And I hate to call it that,” said the resident who was one of four local people who anonymously addressed a full meeting of Central Bedfordshire Council last week.
“But it’s unfortunate we have to go to extremes to describe situations that are actually being ignored,” she told councillors.
Two Bedfordshire residents and a representative of Kensworth Parish Council and Stanbridge Parish Council spoke at the meeting.
The resident spoke instead of a representative of Billington Parish Council, who failed to turn up.
She referred to a group of people “too scared to speak”, saying “they didn’t come tonight because of that fear”.
Back in December 2017, Central Beds Council voted unanimously to put its £9m plans to shut down the controversial Greenacres travellers’ site on hold for the time being.
CBC devised a 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.
But with the council’s “radical” plan hanging over them, the travellers gave CBC assurances that their behaviour would improve, and councillors voted to give residents a chance.
But the resident said: “The multi-million pound project to improve Billington is only addressing two of the largest sites.
“And, in 18 months, that parish is still suffering immensely,” she added.
“The so-called goodwill that was generated from the gipsy and travellers there, who said ‘we’ll change’, has only got worse.
“The council has received issues about farmers losing their pregnant ewes because fences are broken, water troughs are taken down.
“You can’t go down certain roads in Billington because the travellers and their children are in there.
“These people are living in almost a war zone. And I hate to call it that.
“Will that change?” she asked. “The Billington project team has yet to change that.”
The Kensworth representative said: “What is happening to us is happening to others, which are nearest neighbours to massive caravan sites which have been granted very special circumstances on CBC green belt land.
“We now know that few of the CBC councillors are aware what is happening in this area.
“These are questions to each ward councillor and each hopeful candidates at the elections in May.
“Did I know how many years these issues have been getting worse? Did I know how serious and now urgent these issues have become? What am I doing here as a ward councillor? Will I speak up and save our council becoming known as the pushover district that blames the police and blames government legislation, but won’t take the right action within their power to address these issues?”
The Stanbridge representative said: “We share the problems we are facing from some traveller groups that are abusing national planning policy for long-term caravans on greenbelt.
“This is spoiling the principles of this local authority as a great place to live and work.
“They also have adverse effects on established traveller communities who’ve lived in our parishes for decades.
“In many cases, the travellers who were granted the original approvals have been forced off their sites.
“The settled community have been threatened and abused to such an extent that residents, some who have lived here for generations in a village, are now leaving.
“Steps forward are being made, not as quickly as we would like, but things are moving forward positively,” she added.
“There are still individuals who don’t seem to recognise the difficulties we have been through and the environment in which we live.
“Willingness to change seems to be lacking in some cases, and this relates to senior personnel with influence over those who’re trying to make a difference.
The other local resident said: “I would like you to hear about certain groups and individuals who are having a substantial negative impact on businesses in Central Beds, particularly in and around two of the largest towns, Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard.
“Greenbelt has been lost to absentee landlords, who can afford to buy more across the country that they then concrete over and occupy without planning consent.
“Some of these sites have been allowed to expand to the point where they totally dominate the nearest established settled communities.
“Along with such large sites comes strong evidence of criminality, anti-social behaviour and intimidation, which is largely absent in rural areas without these huge sites.
“The criminals are so blatant and so lawless that these incidents are happening in broad daylight and often in front of the victims.
“What does it tell us that Bedfordshire Police have a duty of care to advice pubs to close when there is a large traveller funeral in this area?” she asked. This is not about racism. This is about human behaviours that are undesirable in any culture, ethnicity or group.
“Years and years of appalling planning decisions by CBC in relation to the travellers in this area and, at best, a lethargic approach to enforcement has led us to the dire situation which we find ourselves in now.
“We all agree that this is not an easy situation to manage and it requires a multi-agency approach. But there is no doubt about the negative impact this group of individuals are having on the area.”
Conservative Arlesey councillor Ian Dalgarno said: “We do recognise the angst and concerns residents have about gipsy and traveller sites in your area.
“We would not have instigated the project in December 2017 to invest upwards of £9m in resolving Billington because it is the biggest issue.
“We have not excelled in dealing with enforcement cases. We’ve admitted that. And we’re looking to address that going forward.
“During the last eight months, we have worked closely with focus groups, the Billington Residents’ Association and the Billington village group.
“We will continue to work with Billington residents on the site. We are working with all of the utilities to see what do we need to do with Billington to put it right at a level comensurate with the current planning level for that site, back to the 45 units.
“A speaker mentioned the nearest villages being overwhelmed with gipsy and traveller sites.
“We recognise that and know we have to fix that.
“We have a capacity to do a certain amount of work. We have already said what the next five sites are which we’re going to move on to next.
“We will not be stopping our work. But, as you said, we shouldn’t be relying on new legislation.
“We are looking to use as many of the tools we have in our box to fix the issues that are out there.
“Some of the gipsies and travellers have confirmed your thoughts that they don’t like like being over-run as well.
“At some sites we know there’s sub-letting going on, people get over-ridden and get forced out of their accommodation, and we’re looking to resolve that for them.
“They just want a quiet life and get on with things with their families.
“In terms of the Billington process it is going to take some time, but it won’t stop us from targeting the next five sites.”