I know that not everyone will agree with what is written here, however I wanted to share my personal thoughts and opinions on the issue of the Kidsgrove travellers now that they have left the site at Birchenwood for the 3rd time.
Firstly I think that like many I put the blame firmly at the door of Newcastle Borough Council. The first failing in my eyes was allowing the car park to remain unlocked in the evening as part of a cost saving process. This provided the initial invitation for the first visit and well following that first visit, like many Kidsgrove residents, I suspected they would return if no action was taken to prevent access.
No such action was taken, well other than the council changing their policy on gate locking in the evening. There were many people who wanted a height restriction barrier installed on the car park, something that typically does have success in preventing access, however Newcastle Borough Council decided against this option for some reason. If it was cost reasons then this was a strange move given that the cost of the clean up operation is rumoured to be into 5 figures.
Of course this led to the travellers returning for a 2nd time to the site, however access was this time prevented by some plucky local residents who actually blocked the entrance to the car park limiting the occupation of the site to just 4 caravans. Again though it took time and money to evict and clean up the site following their visit and residents lived in hope that surely Newcastle Borough Council would act now to prevent future access?
Sadly we know the answer. We got to experience the 3rd visit of the travellers and this time they decided that they wanted to occupy Birchenwood football fields after a brief stay on the car park. It does appear that the lock was removed from the gate leading down to the fields from the car park, however access would have still been prevented if the gate post remained in place. If this was firmly set in the ground it would make removal more difficult and could have prevented access still in my eyes, due to the narrow entrance.
Now we can’t blame the council for the bizarre decision of the courts to effectively allow the travellers to remain on the site for 3 weeks, however if they had never had access to the site in the first place, then this whole issue would not have arisen. No one is commenting on the cost of the clean up operation this time, however it would be reasonable to assume it will be the most expensive of all of the occupations so far. It is also potentially going to have a massive effect on Kidsgrove Lads and Dads who are relying on the fund raising from this weekends events to keep the organisation operating financially over the coming season.
So who do we blame? Can we really blame the travellers for taking advantage of a farcical “trespass” law which is a civil and not criminal matter. Successive Governments have been asked to change this law, however all seem reluctant for some reason to make the change. There is in effect nothing stopping anyone parking up on council land and claiming trespass - as soon as you do this the Police are no longer involved and the matter becomes a civil case between the land owner.
I believe we can blame Newcastle Borough Council for the constant failings to prevent access to the site, especially after the first visit by the travellers. The cost of a barrier is nothing compared to the cost of eviction and cleaning up the site after the further 2 visits. The fact the finances are being found for this, mean that any financial excuses simply don’t wash with me. The leader of the council Mike Stubbs is also a Kidsgrove Councillor, surely if anyone can apply pressure and get action it would be the leader of the council?
Now we learn that Staffordshire County Councillor Margaret Astle is to use £2000 from her community fund to pay for a barrier. Yes, its great to see that a barrier is finally going to be installed at the site and lets hope this prevents further access. However, I can’t help thinking that someone else is going to still lose out as a result of this £2000 being used from her community fund. Surely this money should be given to community projects and groups and not used to prop up the Borough Council when they claim to not have the funds to protect their own land?
If Newcastle Borough Council is so hard up on money then the Labour controlled council needs to better think about how it can increase revenue or reduce costs.
Clearly these are only my own personal thoughts, opinions and observations from the issue and in no way claim to be fact.