‘Outcast’ traveller wants to stand for council so community can unite

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An “outcast” is vowing to stand as a councillor in a bid to fight the prejudice towards the traveller community.

Mary-Rose-Ellen-Henrietta McGregor, who lives at Slapton Road, Billington, says travellers are being victimised and says standing as a councillor would help unite the community.

Ms McGregor outlined her feelings in a letter to Aylesbury Vale District Council where she objected to plans by Interguide Ltd to build a 120-berth marina at Slapton moorings.

Interguide is owned by Slapton parish councillor Alan Dugard and its plans – revised from an earlier 180-berth scheme – have provoked a flood of letters to AVDC, the majority against the application.

Ms McGregor claims her fellow travellers have been banned from local facilities in Slapton. She said: “We are classed as outcasts and are discriminated against for our Irish heritage.

“Councillors Dugard and [David] Wright should be welcoming members of our community onto the parish council so that we can be a voice for our people.

“I would like to stand as a member of the parish and speak for my fellow travellers and voice their opinions so that we can all unite and come together, to stop the small village from becoming overcrowded with unnecessary people and boats.”

In her letter Ms McGregor says her reservations over the marina scheme is not a reaction to parish council objections to previous plans to extend travellers’ site in the area.

“There was much disjuncture and objection against us applying for more pitches,” she said. “This [letter to AVDC] is not in relatiation for that, we just feel that Slapton and Billington is a small area and will not be sustainable if this application is a success.”

Slapton Parish Council this week told the LBO that it does not currently have any councillor vacancies due to positions being filled by an election at the beginning of August and the co-option of another councillor at its meeting last Wednesday.

They added: “If the lady in question is considering becoming a councillor and indeed meets the criteria, she would have to contact Billington Parish Council for their views as she is not a resident of the Slapton Parish.”

The council said it was unable to comment about whether there were issues between the settled community and the travellers in the area, and claims travellers had been banned from local facilities.

In the past Councillor Don Brewin, vice-chairman of Billington Parish Council, has claimed Billington is “under siege” and threatening to be swamped by travellers’ homes.

Representatives of Billington, Stanbridge and Tilsworth Parish Councils met with Central Beds Council chief executive Richard Carr at Billington Village Hall last year to discuss travellers allegedly encroaching on to residents’ property, retrospective planning applications, unauthorised entrances, fly-tipping, sewage discharge and a belief that the traveller population is dominating the villages.

Reacting to Ms McGregor’s letter, Councillor Brewin said he supported her viewpoint.

He said: “Although Billington Parish Council has issues with some of the travellers, whose behaviour is being investigated by the police, and seem to have no intention of forming relationships with the rest of the community, other travellers have integrated well into the community.

“The parish council wishes to give support to all those in the community who wish to form relationships of mutual respect. So, to that extent, if a member of the travelling community is interested in joining the parish council, whether formally or informally, we would be prepared to discuss it with them.

“They would need to be aware of the current issues that affect our relationship with some travellers; and would therefore need to be able to withdraw from some discussions if it is appropriate, and respect the need for objectivity and confidentiality at all times.

“It is not clear whether Ms McGregor intends to put her name forward for election to Slapton Parish Council or Billington. If she is a resident of Greenacres she is in the parish of Billington, but as she lives within three miles of Slapton she could apply for nomination there if she is on the Electoral Roll.

“It is clear that she feels strongly that the travelling community are not being welcomed in Slapton. We support her intention of doing all she can to overcome the discrimination she is experiencing.”

He added that many residents of Billington shared her objections to the marina application, and had written to Aylesbury Vale District Council to express them.

Joseph Jones, Thames Valley spokesman for the Gypsy Council, said there were several members of the gypsy and traveller community who were serving on parish and district council’s in the country, such as in Kent and Dorset.

He praised Ms McGregor’s stance and said: “Anyone from any commmunity has got to have the determination and skills to come into local politics and make a difference. I would encourage anyone with that inclination to have a go.”

Mr Jones added: “I stood myself to be on my local parish council a few years ago. I wanted to be able to make a positive input with community projects. They held a meeting [to appoint a new councillor] and I was the only one who turned up so they deferred the decision. If I’d pursued it with more determination then it might have worked out differently, but I asked myself if I really wanted to be a part of it.”

He sympathised with Ms McGregor’s claims the traveller community was being victimised locally, adding: “People can feel like outcasts and if that’s the case it should be reported to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.”

As reported previously by the LBO, Councillors Dugard and Wright were both found to have breached the parish councillors’ Code of Conduct at a hearing by Aylesbury Vale District Council’s Standards Committee in August. Notice of the censure, for failing to declare interests, was read out at a Slapton Parish Council meeting on September 17.

The councillors spoke in favour of the original plans for a 180-berth marina to be constructed at the village’s moorings at a parish council meeting in February 2015. Councillor Wright also discussed a planning application for 18 houses during a meeting in January 2015.

This was in spite of the fact that Cllr Dugard owned the company behind both ventures. His company, Interguide Ltd, also owned the home of Cllr Wright.