A group of travellers have won the right to remain on a controversial plot of land after a lengthy legal battle.
Travellers on land off Fairfield Road, Hardhorn, are no longer living under threat of eviction – despite being warned by Fylde Council two years ago to be ‘under no illusion’ that they would be allowed to stay.
The group moved on to the field near Staining illegally in November 2009, sparking a bitter seven-year-long process as the council fought to have them removed from the site.
The group initially submitted a planning application for a change-of-use for the agricultural land before opting for a smaller scheme of six pitches and up to 20 caravans.
Councillors in Fylde voted to throw out the fresh proposal – but their decision was overturned by the planning inspectorate following a public inquiry.
Fylde MP Mark Menzies slammed the decision to allow the travellers to remain on the site.
He said: “I am appalled by this decision which sends out a clear message that anyone can develop a site illegally and be given permission to remain should they play the system for long enough.
“I am extremely angry that the residents neighbouring this site have been treated so poorly by an organisation which purports to represent the Government I support.
“While this application may be for a smaller site than initially proposed, this remains an inappropriate location for this development, which goes against important policies put in place to protect the countryside and raises significant highways issues.
“Over the last seven years, I have on numerous occasions praised the residents for the patience they have shown while Fylde Council has been involved in a lengthy and expensive legal battle with the applicants.
“Throughout this process I have been assured that it would simply be a matter of time until this was resolved and the law was on their side. It now appears that was a lie.
“I have urged Fylde Council to use every resource at its disposal to fight this decision and have today written to the Secretary of State to demand he calls in this decision for further examination as I believe there are points in the inspector’s statement which are inaccurate and fail to take into account many of the underlying issues at this site.”
Staining and Weeton councillor John Singleton, who spoke out on behalf of concerned residents in the past, said: “The overall opinion of local people has been that the whole process has taken far too long to resolve.
“Now that a decision has been made I can only hope that the travellers on the site will be compliant with the conditions of the application and that no more than 20 caravans will be on the field at any time; though this has not been the case in the past.
“I am disappointed that the planning inspector has granted the application because there have been so many judicial reviews in the past that have been found in favour of the travellers leaving the site.
“I feel sorry for the residents who live nearby who will be affected most of all.
“It has taken seven years and has caused so much trouble for the residents and then to have the application suddenly granted just beggars belief.”