Preston travellers fear they could be forced off site after over 30 years
One of the residents of a Preston travellers’ site which could be sold off says a condition securing its use by the travelling community gives no guarantees to the current occupiers.
A member of the Gavin family, who did not want to be individually identified, claims that more than a dozen families could still end up being pitched off their pitches on the Leighton Street plot.
The site - which sits in the shadow of the University of Central Lancashire - is owned by Lancashire County Council, which has launched a public consultation over its future. One of the options is to sell the land with a stipulation that it must be retained in its current form by the new owner.
But the 31-year-old resident, who has lived on the site all her life, believes the condition offers no more protection than if it were put on the open market.
“If this was going to get sold as a regular plot of land, the university would have it in two minutes - but they wouldn’t want a travellers’ site,” she said.
“The only people who will want it are going to be other travellers. But most travellers will only deal with who they know - and whoever buys this won’t know us.
“Another traveller man could come in and tell us to get off - would you want someone to kick you out of your home that you’ve been living in for 30 years?”
The former salt factory site was developed in the mid-1980s to replace another traveller plot on London Road which was closed down.
It is barely visible from the road and the mum-of-two says its discreet appearance reflects the quiet way in which the families on the site live their lives - something which she claims has not been lost on the local community.
“We’re all known by face and name and have been brought up with the locals. There’s no crime here and no violence - but people don’t want travellers they don’t know coming in,” she explains.
“The teenage boys living here can walk into town and everybody knows them - they don’t mess about and, if they did, people would ring us and we’d check them.”
Lancashire County Council is under no obligation to provide traveller sites. It is the responsibility of district councils as the local planning authorities to ensure that there is sufficient provision for travellers in their areas.
Currently, the Preston site is being maintained by Preston City Council on behalf of County Hall. But the county council has calculated that it can save £131,000 a year by ending the arrangement - along with a similar agreement with district councils covering two other sites in Morecambe and Accrington.
The Leighton Street resident wants the lease for the Preston site to be handed over to the live-in warden who has looked after it since the first families moved in.
“He runs this site as a home - if a stranger comes in, they’ll be running it as a business,” she explains.
“It has been done in other parts of the country and those sites are immaculate. The rents are paid to the warden to cover the bills and the maintenance - and at no loss to the council.
“This is our inheritance and this is how we want to live - the site needs to passed into the hands of the people that have been here from the day it was built,” she adds.
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: "The consultation is being held to gather people's views on the future of these sites.
"We will carefully consider all responses before this item is put before the cabinet."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Preston City Council emphasised that there is “clear demand” for traveller sites in the county.
“We believe that there is no policy case for reducing provision. Although Preston City Council currently manages the site in Preston on behalf of Lancashire County Council, our concern is not around who owns or manages the site, but that it be retained in its current use,” the spokesperson said.
‘WHERE HAS THE MONEY GONE?’
The Leighton Street resident claims that there have been no upgrades to the site in the three decades since it was built - making it primitive in comparison to other modern-day traveller plots.
“They say they’re spending money on this site, but where?” she asks.
“The sheds haven’t been modernised - there’s no heating or disabled access for anyone who needs it. In most other sites up and down the country, the sheds have been extended and there have been living areas put into them.
“Chalets nowadays are plumbed up - but there’s no plumbing in these.
“There’s been no improvements in 30 years - the rents are getting paid, but where's the money going? The site is clean and is maintained in that respect, but it’s facilities are all old.”
In a statement, Preston City Council acknowledged that the site is due for an upgrade.
“The current on-site facilities are functional and repairs are undertaken when necessary; however, the council recognises the requirement for a refurbishment or replacement programme in the future,” a spokepserson said.