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21st Sep, 2021

Urgent need for traveller sites in district says MP

DESIGNATED traveller sites are urgently needed in the district says an MP after an unauthorised encampment caused damage to a Warwick football club.

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western has called on Warwick District Council (WDC) to create a site for travelling communities after 28 families set up camp illegally at Central Ajax football club’s Hampton Road home earlier this month.

A club spokesperson said it was now in a difficult situation ahead of the new season following costly damage to pitches, goals and nets. Rubbish, as well as animal and human waste, was also left. The ground remains closed while cleaning takes place.

The Labour MP claims incidents of unlawful encampments were especially frequent in Warwick district as it did not provide any authorised transit sites.

It is the only district in Warwickshire not to do so – while there are eight across the rest of the county.

He added WDC had a legal responsibility to build one because it was included in the Local Plan for future housing and development, approved in 2017.

Mr Western said: “I am upset to hear about the damage done to Ajax Football Club which is a precious community asset.

“My major concern is that these sorts of incidents will continue to occur if it does not urgently provide places for Gypsy, Roma and other travelling communities to set up.

“The best-case scenario – nationally and in our district – is that travelling communities have a sufficient number of sites to choose from, where they can stay permanently or temporarily, which they can preserve and maintain themselves.”

In the Local Plan, a site in Harbury Lan – currently home to Leamington FC – has been earmarked for development and is intended to provide about 30 pitches for travellers that can be used for up to 28 days at a time.

But it is not yet clear when it will be built.

WDC leader Coun Andrew Day agreed a site was needed but said plans typically faced opposition from communities, councillors and MPs.

He said: “The council was angered by the mess and disruption caused by the unauthorised encampment and is currently assisting Ajax FC with the funding and implementation of the clean-up.

“Although the occurrence of illegal encampments in the district has reduced in recent years, due to the relocation of the Kenilworth Horse Fairs, the need remains to find a site. Over many years approaches made by the council to acquire land to accommodate gypsies and travellers have been opposed by local communities, councillors and also MPs.

“However, the council has identified and has agreements in place that, subject to the creation of a new Football Stadium for Leamington FC, that the existing football club site can be earmarked for that use. The council is working with the club on the proposals for a new stadium which are at an advanced stage. If everything is agreed the process is likely to take a couple of years, but we are cautiously optimistic that we have found a solution.”

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