Travellers leave Preston's Moor Park a muddy mess
This is the muddy mess Preston's recently renovated Moor Park has been left in after a week-long visit by travellers.
Vans and trailers churned up the grassland, leaving the city council with a clear-up bill it can ill afford.
Now there are fears Town Hall chiefs could be facing an expensive double whammy after the nomadic community moved on and set up camp less than two miles away on the former athletics track in London Road, also owned by the authority.
Other caravans invaded a privately-owned former car showroom site on Blackpool Road at Ribbleton. It is claimed barriers were broken down.
One city councillor, who lives opposite Moor Park, described the situation as “atrocious.”
But Coun David Borrow admitted: “There isn’t a lot we can do until the Government agrees legislation which would allow councils to move more quickly.
“The process at present takes around a week to get the relevant eviction order - and the travellers know that.
“That’s why they left Moor Park on Sunday, just before an order could be served on Monday.”
The damage comes just as Phase One of a Â£2.35m restoration scheme for the Grade 2 Listed park is being completed.
The job of repairing the mess has already begun, with council workmen clearing up the litter and waste left by the visitors and starting to rectify the damage caused to the surface by vehicles.
Another councillor, Lynne Wallace, who also lives just yards from the park, declared: “Who’s going to pay for all this? Once again it will be the council taxpayers of Preston who have to foot the bill.
“These things are costly and the council’s resources are already very stretched.
“A lot of money has gone into that park to make it more children and family friendly.
“A lot of people are returning to Moor Park to see how fantastic it is and the last thing we want is for the public to be put off by this and stop coming.”
This is not the first time travellers have caused problems on Moor Park. In summer 2016 there were two visits from separate groups, prompting Preston Council to look into an injunction banning further encampments on all public parks.
But two years on, Coun Borrow said local authorities were still waiting to be given more powers by central government.
“At the moment it is a civil matter and a council has to go to court to get a civil order before it can get the police to evict people.
“It is quicker than it used to be. But the travellers know they have the best part of a week before an order can be served.
“We can’t prevent anyone getting on to Moor Park because we wouldn’t want to put a fence all the way round it. We can’t make it a fortress.
“Sadly these travellers don’t have any respect for community facilities like public parks. They have churned up the grass and thre work that has been done on it over the last couple of years had been ruined.
“Until the government make this a criminal matter rather than a civil one, councils can’t move them on quickly.”The Moor Park Â£2.35m restoration project was awarded a Â£1.725m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2014. Additional external funding of Â£625,000 came in to match the council’s contribution.Phase One of the scheme involved refurbishment of the observatory, grotto, changing pavilion, bowls pavilion and provision of a cafe. A skatepark was also installed and the park’s paths and drainage were also improved, with additional seats and bins and tree planting.
The Government announced in April that it was reviewing council powers to tackle random traveller encampments.
But, as yet, no legislation has been brought forward to give local authorities more muscle to evict visitors quickly from their land.
The then housing minister Dominic Raab said: “The vast majority of the travelling community are decent law-abiding people. But we are particularly concerned about illegal traveller encampments and some of the anti-social behaviour they can give rise to.
“We must promote a tolerant society and make sure legal sites are available for travellers, but equally the rule of law must be applied to everyone.”
As things stand, evicting travellers from a council-owned site like Moor Park can turn into a long, complicated and frustrating process.
To apply for a court order the authority has to show the travellers are on the land without permission.
The time it takes depends on when a court hearing can be held, although it is usually a week before all the necessary paperwork is in place to serve an eviction notice.
Groups of travellers regularly stop off in the Preston area, especially during summer.
Moor Park was targeted twice in 2016 and each time the council was left clearing up the mess.
But the most damage was done when a group descended on Penwortham Holme sports field in August last year.
Vehicles churned up the football pitches so badly that junior clubs were forced to write off practically a whole season while the surface was repaired by South Ribble Council. Around 200 children at under-7 and under-8 level were affected.
At the time cabinet member Graham Walton said: “They have trashed the pitches. It’s just disgusting really.
“I’ve been a councillor for 12 years and we are having the same problem over and over again. We are lacking a law to stop this from happening.”
That was the second time Penwortham Holme had been damaged - the visitors left their calling card in the summer of 2016 as well.
This year the TV cameras filmed a raid by travellers on the Thwaites Brewery in Blackburn while police stood by and watched. Arrests were made days later after a public outcry.
The former offices of Leyland Trucks in Centurion Way were targeted a month later.
Travellers who invaded Hoghton Cricket Club in 2013 churned up the wicket by doing wheel spins and then empties bags of rubbish on the square before being escorted off.
Track invasion leaves kids ‘gutted’
A BMX club has been forced to close down for the “foreseeable future” after some of the Moor Park travellers invaded their track.
Vans and trailers which caused so much damage to the park are now camped on the Fishwick Recreation Ground in London Road, preventing Preston Pirates from using the facilities.
More than 200 youngsters are said to be “gutted” that their racing and coaching sessions have been cancelled by club officials.
“We can’t do anything else,” said chairman Ian Brookes. “We can’t get on the site.
“I went down yesterday and there were about 12 horses on it. There’s no way the kids can go in there.
“I don’t think the track has been damaged, it is more the field that they have made a mess of. But it’s the disruption this has caused.
“We were due to have more than 200 kids down this week. They are all gutted.
“We have had to say we are shut for the foreseeable future, until they move off.
“I spoke to the travellers on Sunday and they said they are there for a week. Hopefully they will be out by the weekend.”
The Pirates say access to the former athletics track was gained on Sunday. A height barrier had its lock cut off and plastic bollards were ripped up.
“We talked to the police and they said there was nothing they could do because it is council land,” added Ian. “Basically they didn’t want to know.”