Council chiefs are 'fannying about' over controversial Gypsy sites issue (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Council chiefs are 'fannying about' over controversial Darlington Gypsy sites issue
COUNCIL chiefs have been accused of ‘fannying about’ over the divisive issue of Gypsy and traveller accommodation.
Last year, national planners ordered Darlington Borough Council (DBC) to create extra capacity and the council devised plans to expand two existing sites.
Although work to expand these sites, at Honeypot Lane and Neasham Road, has not yet started, a number of smaller-scale developments, known as windfall sites, have been approved by council planners.
DBC says work to enable the extension of the Neasham Road site is ongoing.
Liberal Democrat borough councillor Martin Swainston raised fears that a £1.5m grant being offered by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) for the project could be lost if no action is taken.
Speaking at a meeting of Hurworth Parish Council, on the outskirts of Darlington, on Thursday (September 5) evening, Coun Swainston said: “This is a very emotive issue and there are very strong views on both sides.
“There is definitely a villain in this piece and it is DBC, which has known for many years that there is a shortage of Gypsy/traveller sites and has chosen not to do anything about it.
“They have a pot of money available and are fannying about, rather than spending it.
“Unless the council does something, the rural wards of the borough will continue to have this issue with windfall sites.”
A DBC spokeswoman said discussions with the HCA over funding for the Neasham Road site were continuing, in an attempt to ‘resolve remaining issues’.
She added: “Until these issues have been resolved, the funding is not available.”
Thursday’s meeting threatened to reach boiling point, when two parish councillors became involved in a disagreement.
John Howard, who has close links with the travelling community, accused Jeff Kemp, who is in charge of planning matters for the parish, of shaking his head while Coun Howard was speaking in defence of the education received by Gypsy children.
Coun Howard said: “Everybody is taking this McCarthyist attitude that we are going to be surrounded and invaded by gypsies.”
Parish council chairman Tony Winnett replied: “You are being extremely provocative with that remark.”
Coun Swainston said there was a ‘lack of political will’ within the DBC cabinet as regards making progress on the issue.
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