Travellers’ site angers Westhampnett residents

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AN OUTPOURING of anger greeted local authority figures answering questions on a proposed transit travellers’ site in Westhampnett.

The move by Chichester District Council to create nine pitches next to the Westhampnett depot sparked uproar, with homeowners claiming it was a ‘fait accompli’ and that it was ‘killing’ the village.

Chairman of Westhampnett Parish Council Bob Holman, speaking at the opening of a public meeting at the March Primary School on Monday (December 9) said: “The announcement came to us with total incredulity.

“It’s quite clear this has been kept under wraps for as long as possible.”

Around 70 people turned up to question Diane Shepherd, chief executive of Chichester District Council, the council’s head of community services Steve Hansford, cabinet member Josef Ransley and Inspector Will Rolls, of Chichester Police.

Residents slammed the lack of consultation.

“There should have been some sort of consultative process among the parish,” said Westerton resident Windsor Holden.

“I’m listening to the tenses that have been used. I’m not hearing much conditional. It’s all being presented very much as a fait accompli.

“We seem to be having very little say in this. It seems the camp will be going ahead and our concerns about it are not being taken seriously.”

Westhampnett parish councillor Caroline Moth said: “You must have known about this for months and this is the first time you’ve bothered to come to us.

“There’s no consultation, it’s a joke.”

Cllr Ransley told residents he was first informed five weeks ago of the proposal.

Resident Helen Hill said she attended the parish’s last public meeting a year ago to discuss the proposed 500 homes on land in Westhampnett as part of CDC’s emerging local plan.

“It seems to me that you’re killing this village,” she said.

“What do you think is going to happen when you build that site at the end of the road?”

Homeowners also raised fears about rising crime levels from having a transit site, but Insp Rolls reassured them this would not be the case.

He had spoken with a colleague, policing an area including a similar site in Lewes, East Sussex.

“In the four years they have had the transit site they’ve had no crimes in the local community that can be attributed to anybody from the site.

“You obviously all have a preconceived idea of what they’re going to be like,” he said, adding there had been no ‘crime spike’ from having the site and that the police dealt in evidence, not past stories.

“It’s not freedom of speech, it’s borderline racist,” he said after some villagers said it was freedom of speech to say travellers committed crimes.

District councillor for Westhampnett Andrew Smith was asked for his take.

“As the local councillor, I’m not exactly jumping for joy that the one site for the whole of West Sussex that’s been volunteered is in my ward.

“I anticipated it would be an angry meeting and that’s what it’s been.”

He added the site could ‘unlock’ the powers of the Criminal Justice Act, allowing to Sussex Police to move on illegal encampments in the county, and experiences in East Sussex showed a small site with ten pitches did seem to solve the problem to a large degree.

Support for the site

OTHER parishes have welcomed the news of a proposed travellers’ site.

So far, Tangmere has come under ‘invasion’ from travellers on around eight occasions this year – at one stage around 40 caravans arrived on the village’s airfield.

Work has been ongoing in the past few days on defences to protect the village for 2014.

Vice-chairman of the parish council Brian Wood said: “Tangmere Parish Council has now installed 175 posts around the recreation field in an attempt to avoid future incursions.

“In addition, West Sussex County Council has installed a padlocked gate and height barrier at the museum entrance to the airfield.

“The Highways Agency has installed a padlocked barrier at the Cassons layby on the A27 .

“All these measures have been taken in an attempt to avoid further incursions in and around the village in the years to come.

“Tangmere Parish Council welcome the news that the possibility of a travellers transit camp is being considered, hopefully this will provide the police authority with additional powers to deal with illegal camps.”

‘Open and transparent’ process

RESIDENTS have been assured they do have an opportunity to take part in consultation.

Chichester District Council’s chief executive Diane Shepherd said residents had the opportunity to put their views forward at the full council meeting on Tuesday.

“It’s an open, transparent meeting that you can all attend. That’s your right to be heard,” she said.

If approved, the council will then apply to its own planning department for planning permission.

With no transit site in West Sussex, police have no powers to move on travellers who illegally set up camp.

If a transit site is available, they can use their powers under the Criminal Justice Act to move them on to the transit site. If people refuse to move, then police can force them to leave the county, but this option does not exist while there is no site available.

The overall cost of the site would be £1.3m, but the council hopes to receive funding from the Homes and Communities Agency, if it puts in an application by the end of March, 2014.

The cost would be split between Chichester District Council, West Sussex County Council and the remaining seven councils in the county.