Travellers site sell-off
Irish Travellers fear eviction by new owner
Irish Travellers fear eviction by new owner
Dozens of Traveller families are living in fear of eviction as a council considers whether to sell off their sites.
More than 15 families in Preston – plus others on two more Lancashire County Council-owned Traveller sites – fear they could end up homeless if the authority opts to sell their camps later this year.
A consultation on their future ended this month and a decision on their future is expected in the autumn. The county council has no statutory obligations about provision and says a condition of any sale would be that they remain Traveller sites.
But the Irish Travellers who rent slabs on Preston’s Leighton Street Caravan Park warn it is not that simple.
They believe the most likely buyer would be someone from the travelling community, who would want to replace existing residents with their own relatives. And English Gypsies do not share sites with Irish Travellers.
Mum of two Mary Gavin, 24, whose parents moved on before she was born, said: “We are all related to one another on here, which is normal for a Traveller site. My grandfather got it built and my uncle is the warden. We all look out for each other – the kids are watched by about three mums while they play.
“If the council sells this site, we wouldn’t be in a position to buy it and the family would get broken up. A few may go into houses but a lot of us would have nowhere to go.”
Gavin believes if the new landlord was a Traveller, he would want to be surrounded by his own family.
“Even if he says he’s going to keep us on, he won’t,” she said. “As soon as a tiny rule is broken that person would be off and the landlord’s first cousin would be there. Then someone else would be put off and be replaced with another relative. We are trying to make the council understand this but I don’t think they do.”
A older member of the Gavin family, who did not want to be named, added: “A lot of us on here are sick with our health. I had a triple heart bypass recently, and have arthritis and depression. We are worried sick by what is happening. If somone new takes over – especially if it’s an English Gypsy man – he will not want to keep the current residents, no matter what he says. The council needs to understand this.
“I’ve lived at Leighton Street for 32 years and have been in Preston for almost 50. We’re no trouble and we know local people support us because they’ve told us. If we’re made to leave the site we’d have to get our caravans and put them on the gap [site entrance] because we have nowhere else to go.”
The briefing for the two-month consultation stressed that Lancashire County Council, like other local authorities, faces major financial challenges and must cut costs.
The three council sites are Leighton Street, Altham near Accrington and Mellishaw Park in Morecambe – and they boast a total of almost 50 pitches between them. At Leighton Street some slabs are home to more than one caravan, so the number of families affected could be higher.
Although the county council is the landlord, the day-to-day running of the sites is taken by the relevant district councils. The cost of providing this service in 2019-20 will be around £131,000.
A Lancashire County Council spokeswoman said the sites were not a legal requirement, but that any sale would be conditional on them being retained for Travellers.
She added: “Council officers visited the sites to make residents aware of the consultation. Our cabinet will consider all responses very carefully, before making a final decision later this year.”
A spokesperson from Preston City Council added: “There is clear evidence of demand for the county’s existing sites, including the one in Preston. We believe therefore 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 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.”
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