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Hook Road Arena earmarked for gypsy and traveller site
Hook Road Arena is one of the sites earmarked by Epsom Council for a new permanent gypsy and traveller camp, it has emerged.
Epsom Council is to publish a draft consultation paper on potential sites for new gypsy and traveller accommodation across the borough, to meet the Government's national planning policy.
A council spokesman said the final proposals will be set out in a report, to be considered by the council’s planning policy committee on February 19 - which will be open to the public.
It has yet to reveal how many extra families or pitches the borough has to accommodate and it is only going to publish the draft report and the list of sites under consideration on Monday, February 10, via its website.
The spokesman said yesterday that "there is nothing to be concerned about", but already worried residents and politicians are raising concerns.
Councillor Sheila Carlson, who represents Court ward, said she was briefed on two of the proposals last week, one of which falls within her ward.
The first, in Stamford Ward, are areas of scrubland near the smart new Manor Park housing development, and the second site would be a portion of Hook Road Arena, in Court ward - which she is completely against.
Coun Carlson said: "Hook Road Arena. Stand back in amazement on that one. Would we be covering a section of it in concrete?
"It’s greenbelt. It’s close to housing. We also have a certain number of travellers who have settled nearby. They may or may not have a good relationship with the ones that are going to move in.
"It may well have a financial implication with regards to organisations wanting to carry on renting the arena out. How would they view it if a portion of it became a permanent gypsy site? They have lots of events at the arena. The fireworks display, fairs, boot sales. It creates revenue for the council."
Councillor Sheila Carlson, who represents Court ward on Epsom Council
The two existing gypsy and traveller sites in the borough are in Conifer Park, Kiln Lane, Epsom, which has 14 pitches; and Greenlands, Cox Lane, Ewell, which has 16 pitches.
Coun Carlson added: "The difficulty is that, as a borough, we are small and compact and we don’t have spare land to put it on.
"Wherever you put it, it’s going to be contentious. No one will be happy to have it near them. But I do appreciate that we do have to make sites available."
She acknowledged that it is difficult to formulate alternative proposals: "I don’t think any of the ones they have come up with are ideal. All of them will face opposition.
"Sites proposed will have to be owned by Epsom Council and there are not many that fit the criteria and aren’t greenbelt land or used for anything else.
"Maybe they should be looking at private land. But who would sell a chunk of their land to the council, for the amount we could pay for it, for a traveller and gypsy site?"
"The council is in a difficult position."
One area of scrubland in and around the Manor Park housing development
Of the Manor Park proposal, Timothy Nathan, chairman of Stamford Ward Residents' Association (SWRA), said: "We are in the process of actively consulting residents for their views. We will represent those views to the council during the course of the expected public consultation."
Mona Patel, who sits on the SWRA committee, said lots of people had heard about the proposal and are already concerned, with posters appearing at bus stops in Manor Park, making residents aware.
A council spokesman said that it is at an early stage in the process and residents should not be concerned.
He said: "We are aware that this information has been leaked and we don’t want residents to be concerned because, at this stage, there is nothing to be concerned about. "
The spokesman added: "The council is required by national planning policy, introduced by the Government, to go through this process and to identify deliverable sites to meet this need.
"If we fail to do so we run the risk of increasing illegal encampments and the possibility that inappropriate sites come forward through the planning appeal process.
"We are testing possible site options and we will be consulting with all our communities on their suitability.
"This is entirely normal and helps us to ensure the most appropriate sites come forward for whatever use."
Coun Carlson, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Epsom and Ewell in the 2015 general election, said tensions between residents of the borough and the gypsy and traveller community have surfaced in the past.
She said: "We have traveller families who have settled long-term on the Longmead Estate for example. They have integrated into the wider community.
"The ones that are viewed with suspicion are the travelling people who come in and take over a site they are not allowed to take over.
"The people who are living in their homes have to have an understanding that people want to live in a different way from the rest of us and have rights.
"And travellers need to understand that people who live in the community in static places also have rights. There is a distrust between them at the moment.
"Historically what’s happened with the biggest incursions on totally inappropriate sites is a huge mess has been left behind and things have been broken down to get into."
Contact Mr Nathan by emailing email@example.com.
What do you think about gypsy and traveller sites in Epsom and Ewell? Email Hardeep Matharu on the newsdesk on firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
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