Preston traveller site 'will not be sold to the highest bidder' - but who will take it on?

Resident of the site on Leighton Street feared for their future when its proposed sale was announced
Resident of the site on Leighton Street feared for their future when its proposed sale was announced
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A traveller site in Preston which is to be sold off by Lancashire County Council will not be handed to the highest bidder, the authority’s leader has said.

Geoff Driver was speaking at a cabinet meeting which approved plans to dispose of land on Leighton Street, just a quarter of a mile from the city centre.

County Hall had already suggested that a condition be imposed on any future owner that the site would have to remain as pitches for the travelling community.

But the head of the family which has lived on the plot for over 30 years warned earlier this week that the proposal could lead to other of the traveller families buying the land and forcing out existing residents by “underhand” means.

Speaking to the Post straight after the meeting, John Gavin welcomed the move and said that it would “not have been right for the county council to make a profit out of it - this is my family’s home”.

“I’m glad that people’s welfare looks to have taken priority - I just want the children to be able to carry on going to school here and for all the residents to feel secure,” John added.

The site is one of three which the authority will dispose of and the meeting heard that Lancaster City Council had expressed an interest in taking over the site in Morecambe. The county's Labour opposition group leader, Azhar Ali, proposed that the county council engage with Preston City Council to see if there was “similar interest” from them in doing the same in Leighton Street.

The city council already manages the day-to-day running of the site and has employed John Gavin as the warden for the pitches for the past three decades.

He said that he hoped councillors in Preston would now help “find a solution which suits everybody”.

“I have always said that this site can pay for itself with the rents being used for upkeep, so if it could be transferred from the county council to the city council, I think it would be at minimal cost to all involved. And I repeat the offer which I have made in the past that I would be willing to take it on myself and continue to manage it,” John said.

Preston City Council declined to comment on the decision made by cabinet members at County Hall.

County Cllr Driver said that he was happy to clarify the “understandable” fear amongst residents that the land would be sold to the highest bidder.

“That will not happen - we are not interested in a capital receipt, because the value if you were putting a condition on to state that they would always be traveller sites is not going to be very high anyway.

“We will make sure the residents of all three sites are involved fully in the way that we move forward,” County Cllr Driver added.

County Cllr Ali said: “It’s important that nobody is evicted, as these are [people’s] homes - in some cases for all of their lives.”

In county council areas like Lancashire, it is district authorities which are obliged to assess the needs of the gypsy and traveller community and ensure that these are reflected in local development plans for their areas. However, they are not required to set specific targets for the number of pitches provided.