Defiant travellers refuse to leave

By Roddy AshworthA GROUP of travellers, who have set up camp near one of Colchester's busiest roads, vowed last night to stay there until a controversial permanent council site was provided for them.

By Roddy Ashworth

A GROUP of travellers, who have set up camp near one of Colchester's busiest roads, vowed last night to stay there until a controversial permanent council site was provided for them.

The seven-caravan camp was set up on Friday in a field off Cowdray Avenue, near the Leisure World sports centre.

The encampment is made up of a number of relatives, who call themselves the Ward family, including several young children.

A member of the small community, who asked not to be named, said last night: "We are going to stay here until the council have built a site.

"They've been given £8million to build it, but where is it? They've already got one site, but it's abandoned and closed up and in a terrible state.

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"We just want somewhere with some showers and some toilets. There are 15 kids here and they are getting no education. There are no facilities for them."

He said the travellers did not want to cause any problems for people living nearby and did not want to disturb residents.

"We will keep ourselves to ourselves. We won't give anybody any grief, we want to stay here and live quietly. We want to settle down and get our kids into school, but there is nowhere for us to go," added the traveller.

"We are travelling people. We live in caravans and have done for generations. I've lived like that since I was a baby."

A spokesman for Essex Police said they would not move the travellers on unless the owners of the land began proceedings. If it is privately owned land, the owner needs to require them to leave," he said.

"The initiative must come from the landowner. Until the landowner contacts us we shall monitor the situation, but not move them on."

It is understood the site, which backs on to the River Colne, has been sold for a housing development, but so far no detailed planning application has been submitted and it is currently unused.

Colchester Borough Council hired consultants to help it find a suitable location for a travellers' site after the town's previous facility in the Hythe area was closed.

Last September, after months of extended debate and public controversy, it identified land near Severalls Lane as the most appropriate plot available and offered it to Essex County Council to use as a permanent travellers' site.

Residents campaigned against the proposed location and some businesses even threatened to leave if the site was built.

Many residents said they feared their properties would decrease in value and expressed concern about crime and anti-social behaviour, and whether nearby schools would be able to cope with an increase in numbers.

Peter Martin, county council cabinet member with responsibility for travellers' facilities, said the plan to create the permanent site near Severalls Lane were progressing.

"I would think we are now talking about months, rather than years. It also depends whether Colchester Borough Council provides planning permission. There is now pressure on us to find additional sites for travellers," he said.

But Mr Martin said the council had not yet received the funding for the site. "It's not actually in our bank account, but the money will be available when it is needed," he pledged.

"There will also be more money available from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for more fixed sites over the next two or three years."

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