AN annual horse fair has moved to a new location without warning, sparking anger and fear among nearby residents.

Travellers have been setting up camp on a site between Sedgefield and Fishburn in County Durham since Monday (August 18) ahead of the event this weekend.

The unauthorised fair has previously been held at Blackhall, Horden and Seaham but, this year, there was uncertainty surrounding its location.

In Crook, more than 60 residents took to the streets in protest earlier this month after the organiser announced it would be staged at Helmington Row.

Its arrival at the old Winterton Hospital site on Salters Lane has taken many residents by surprise and raised concerns about mess, anti-social behaviour and traffic problems caused by racing horses.

Councillor Maxine Robinson, of Sedgefield Town Council, said: “When we hold an event in the village we have to make sure we get all the necessary permissions. Why is this different? Salters Lane is a busy and dangerous road and they will be racing horses up and down.”

Durham Police and Durham County Council have pledged to minimise the impact on the community and have provided rubbish bags and portable toilets.

Road management will also be introduced when necessary.

In the past, the fair, which attracted around 60 caravans to Blackhall Colliery last year, has divided opinion, leading to Durham County Council to negotiate with the organiser in an effort to find a more suitable site.

Several locations, including Helmington Row, were considered, but all were deemed unsuitable and the council and police announced they would not support the event.

However, contingency plans were put in place in the event of it going ahead regardless.

Today (Wednesday, August 20), in a joint statement, the police and council said: “We knew there was a very high likelihood a fair would take place, but we were not aware of the chosen location, which is on private land, until travellers began to arrive on site.

“Working together, and with the knowledge and experience gained from previous years, we made plans to minimise any impact on local communities wherever the event settled.”

Julia Bowles, chairwoman of Sedgefield Residents Forum, remains unconvinced.

“If Durham County Council knew this was going to happen somewhere in the county, they should have found somewhere suitable,” she said. “This site is dangerous.”