THE decision to earmark land for a permanent gypsy and traveller site in the quiet village of Hart has sparked outrage in the community.
An extraordinary meeting of Hart Parish Council is to be held next week amid “shock and dismay” over the decision by Hartlepool Borough Council to opt for Hart Smallholdings West and Hart Smallholdings East, both in the village, as the preferred sites for a potential development.
There has also been calls for councillors representing the Hart ward to resign for not attending the meeting at the Civic Centre - but one said he didn’t know the meeting was on.
The shortlist of 16 council-owned sites was whittled down by the finance and policy committee, with Hart Smallholdings West, off Front Street, named first choice as it would not need a new road building.
But it was also agreed that the chosen sites - both of which could hold a minimum of eight pitches and met national criteria - will only be developed once there is demand.
Officers and senior councillors have both stressed there is currently no demand and the local authority has never had an application for a permanent gypsy and traveller site.
But village residents have reacted angrily and Hart Parish Council is to hold an extraordinary meeting over the coming days - possibly on Monday - to discuss their response and a public meeting is also expected to be arranged.
Marian Mallabar, who lives next door to the prefered site, said: “I am shocked and disappointed with the council’s decision.
“It is a travesty if it goes ahead.”
Winifred Strong, 65, of Front Street, said: “Nobody is very happy about it. There are more appropriate places.”
Mark Crosbie, 49, managing director of Hart Industrial Tools and village resident, said: “It is not supposed to have an impact on the local community under the guidelines, but how can this not?”
Diane Vale, 80, of The Fens which backs onto the second site, added: “I came to live in Hartlepool because of the countryside and lovely walks and I don’t want to see that spoilt.”
There has also been calls from Mail readers for the three Hart ward councillors; Labour pair Paul Beck and Jean Robinson and independent councillor Keith Fisher, to stand down for not attending the meeting.
But Coun Fisher said: “I knew nothing about it. I am not a member of that committee therefore they did not have to invite me.
“But I am also a member of the planning committee and I’m sure that this proposal will have many more stages to go through.
“I don’t want to prejudice my involvement in that process.”
Coun Fisher added: “Considering I am not a member of the committee that took the decision, but I have been working on the result of it all day yesterday, I won’t be resigning.”
Coun Beck said he is dismayed and disgusted with the decision and added: “Unfortunately I was not available to attend the meeting, and for that I have deep regret.
“The residents of Hart Ward were told at the meetings that the essential criteria for selection was that there must be a doctors surgery close by, a school , a supermarket, and all the facilities that other residents have.
“The school in Hart Village has not got the capacity to take more pupils, there is no Doctors surgery, and the nearest supermarket is Sainsbury’s on Bishop Cuthbert.
“I have written to the leader of the council in his role of chair of the finance and policy committee asking him if any of his committee are willing to come with me to the next meeting in Hart Village to explain to residents the reasoning behind this decision. I await the reply.”
Coun Robinson was unavailable for comment.
The public consultation on the 16 sites followed the formal examination of the council’s proposed Local Plan by a Government planning inspector, which was suspended after he called on officers to carry out further work to find an appropriate site.
The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) said funding is available now for sites that can be identified and completed by March 2015.
But councillors agreed to wait until the demand is there and apply for funding, if there is any available, as necessary.
The cost of developing the Hart Smallholdings West site would be £1.3m and the Hart Smallholidngs East site £1.4m.
There is uncertainty about what level of funding may be available post March 2015 and the liability would then fall on the council.
The decision had to be made before August 18, the deadline for the submission of further information to the planning inspector who meets again in September.