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Councils accused of fast-tracking new travellers’ site

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MENDIPDistrict Council has come under fire for ‘inaccurate’ information regarding its provision of a transit travellers’ site in the Blatchbridge Roundabout area.

Chairman of Selwood Parish Council, cllr Jim Dowling, has refuted claims by the district council that the ward member for the area was ‘engaged throughout the process’ to establish the temporary site and has said that neither his council nor local residents have been officially informed of the intended use of this site.

Cllr Dowling has also dismissed claims by the district council that the temporary site was set up to support the Gypsy and traveller communities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Similar to concerns voiced by local action group, Blatchbridge Against Transit Travellers Sites (BATTS), cllr Dowling says that the district council has been planning to use the area as a travellers’ site since October last year.

In response to the story that ran in the last issue of Frome Times, cllr Dowling said, “Mendip District Council’s response contains some inaccuracies. I was told by a Mendip District councillor that the council were planning to turn the site into a traveller camp before work began in October and I informed Jane Norris (member of BATTS) accordingly. At the end of the article, the district council spokesperson said that the ward member had been engaged throughout the process.

“When our ward member enquired, she was told, ‘We have been clearing some green waste from the site, which was created following the last work some months ago. In terms of formal position on this land, I am not aware that this has been determined’.

“Our ward members for both district and county since that statement have both tried to discover the true intentions for this site, which was only released under pressure. 

“Furthermore, neither Selwood Parish Council nor local residents have been officially informed of the intended use of this site. Selwood Parish Council is furious that it has not been engaged in this process at any stage.”

Jane Norris, a spokesperson for BATTS, added, “This has been a complete cover up. There has been evasion at every turn, and just blatant lies, manipulation and underhand undemocratic methods from Mendip District Council and Somerset County Council officers. 

“BATTS will not stop and will not let this go ahead. Behind the scenes of the council, this has been their way of getting a permanent travellers’ site in the Blatchbridge Roundabout area.”

Somerset County Councillor, Martin Dimery, added, “I can confirm that Mrs. Norris got in touch with me late last year regarding her concerns that the land in question was being designated for use as a Travellers’ site. I had heard nothing, and so made enquiries with various departments at Somerset County Council. Whilst confirming that the land did indeed belong to Somerset County Council, no-one was able or willing to indicate for what purpose it was intended.

“It then appeared the land had indeed been passed into the management of Mendip District Council, who have failed to consult the parish council, or their own planning committee on the usage of the site. I formally complained to the county council that I had not been informed of this decision. An apology was forthcoming in which it mentioned that the site was being brought forward due to the Coronavirus pandemic. My concern is that the pandemic has been used to impose “emergency measures” and by-pass usual consultations.

“I have tried to ascertain from officers at Somerset County Council whether they were ignoring established procedures in not informing me of the matter in question. I have yet to receive an explanation, after several weeks. 

“The matter is now in the hands of Mendip District Council. Councillors on the district council have indicated to me that they are equally frustrated about the way they have been by-passed in this matter. 

“We are right to be suspicious of a serious breach of regulations and an abuse of democratic power under the current “emergency legislation”. We will not know until both councils are able to offer an acceptable explanation. So far they have failed.”

Mendip District Council was approached for comment, but had not responded by the time the paper went to print.

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