Clergy act to get council talking to travellers

02 November 2006

CLERGY in and around Wychavon, in Worcester diocese, have offered to facilitate conversations between the district council and a group of travellers who set up camp in the council’s car park. The travellers had earlier been removed from land they had bought at Eckington. The group moved again on Sunday after the issue of an enforcement order.

The seven families, all related, bought one-and-a-half acres of agricultural land last year, but started to lay groundwork on the site before putting in a planning application. Wychavon District Council sought a High Court order to prevent them developing the land further. The council offered to trade the land for a similar site that the families could build on at Wychavon.

An impasse has since developed, as the council refuses to talk to the travellers while they are parked illegally, but has offered no alternative legal parking for them. The Revd Peter Thomas, Vicar of Eckington and chairman of the governors at Defford-cum-Besford First School, said on Tuesday that local objections to the travellers were on a policy rather than a personal level.

“People here are sympathetic to them as individuals, but don’t believe they’ve gone about things in the right way. The Government recognises a chronic need for 4500 more pitches nationally, but, since the repeal of the Camping and Caravans Act in 1994, no one is clear whose responsibility it is to provide these sites,” he said.

Twelve of the travellers’ 14 school-age children have attended the school regularly in the past ten months, and are reported to have made outstanding progress; but they are not now attending while on the move. “No parents have withdrawn children from the school,” said Mr Thomas.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr Peter Selby, together with the Bishop’s Council, voted unanimously last week to urge Wychavon District Council to recognise the needs and lifestyles of minorities living within its borders; the specific needs of the children; their parents’ desire for the children’s long-term education; and the under-provision of sites at local, regional, and national levels.

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