Angry villagers set up fighting fund to appeal Hart gypsy site decision

Parish council chairman John Littlefair.
Parish council chairman John Littlefair.

ANGRY villagers have set up a fighting fund to help cover the cost of a judicial review into a controversial gypsy and traveller site decision.

Hart Parish Council has confirmed it is seeking a judicial review of the decision by Hartlepool Borough Council to select Hart Village, on the outskirts of town, as the preferred location for a permanent gypsy and traveller site.

They also intend to contact the Local Government Ombudsman over the issue and have set up a fund, which residents can pay into, to help cover the legal costs.

It comes after the council’s finance and policy committee opted for Hart Smallholdings West, to the west of Hart village, as their preferred site with Hart Smallholdings East the back-up option.

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher has previously said the site would only be developed if a demand was identified and that the decision was made after listening to the evidence.

But it angered villagers and residents of nearby Bishop Cuthbert and Clavering, who believe the sites at Hart are not “sustainable” or “deliverable” and have called for the decision to be overturned.

John Littlefair, chairman of Hart Parish Council, confirmed the decision to go down the route of a legal challenge was agreed at a recent meeting and they have set up the Hart, Bishop Cuthbert and Clavering (HBCC) Residents’ Appeal Fund to help cover costs as the Parish Council has limited funds.

Councillor Littlefair said: “The decision has been taken to go down the route of a judicial review, to contact the Ombudsman and to set up a fighting fund. It was felt that we needed to do this because everybody is feeling really frustrated with the system.

“It feels at times like everything is weighed against you and you can feel powerless so we felt we needed to act.

“We are going to fight this all the way in the hope of getting the decision overturned.”

Village resident Andrew Dixon will be managing the fund on behalf of the residents.

Coun Littlefair said it was “too early” to say whether their application for a judicial review would be successful but said he was encouraged by the support shown by villagers and said the issue had sparked people into action and made them more “politically aware”.

A judicial review is a form of court proceeding in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body, in this case the local authority.

Meanwhile, the Local Government Ombudsman looks at complaints about councils and other authorities and organisations.

The parish council has taken the decision ahead of the proposals going before the Government’s planning inspector Kevin Ward later this month.

Earlier this year, the formal examination of the council’s Local Plan was suspended after Mr Ward called on officers to carry out further work to find an appropriate site.

The examination will resume on Tuesday, September 24, at Hartlepool College of Further Education, in Stockton Street, at 10am.

Coun Littlefair said: “The planning inspector will be made aware of what we are doing and why we are doing it.”

A council spokesman said: “We have not yet received formal notification of a judicial review application or the grounds for such an application so it would be premature to comment.

“This matter is, in any event, still subject to a Local Plan Examination and it will be heard on Tuesday, September 24, by a Planning Inspector who will subsequently produce a report for consideration by the council.”

Jim Riddle, programme officer for the examination, confirmed the meeting will be open to the public and those people eligible to speak will receive notification in advance.

Anyone who wants to contribute to the fighting fund is asked to send cash or cheques, (made out to HBCC Residents’ Appeal Fund), to HBCC Residents’ Appeal Fund C/O Andrew Dixon, 3 Magdalene Drive, Hart Village, Hartlepool, TS27 3BU.

A bank account is also due to be set up for people to pay money straight into.