‘LET DOWN’: Hart village leaders slam councillors for failing to support residents over gypsy site

Hart Village (the two proposed sites are to the left and the right of the picture)
Hart Village (the two proposed sites are to the left and the right of the picture)

VILLAGE leaders have hit out at councillors for failing to support calls to review the controversial gypsy site decision despite one of them standing up at a public meeting and pledging his “100-per cent” support to residents.

Hart Village Parish Council chairman John Littlefair said he “felt let down” by Labour councillors for the Hart ward, Paul Beck and Jean Robinson, for not backing calls to review the decision to choose the village as the preferred location for a permanent gypsy and traveller site.

It comes as an illegal gypsy and traveller site sprung up overnight in Blackhall ahead of a horse fair this weekend, while the national travelling community has written an open letter defending itself.

Hartlepool Borough 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.

Speaking at a recent public meeting, Coun Beck stood up and pledged he was “100 per cent” behind residents in disagreeing with the decision.

He added: “I am absolutely disappointed and disgusted that these two sites have been chosen for the gypsy and traveller site. That is totally out of order.”

But he, along with Coun Robinson, did not support the calls to refer the decision, which has angered the Parish Council.

Mr Littlefair said: “To say the least I am very disappointed, particularly with Paul Beck, who stood up and pledged his support at the meeting.

“It is very disappointing that we did not get that support.

“We feel let down. It is all right coming to these meetings and promising things but then delivering nothing.”

Mr Littlefair added that he couldn’t understand how the Hart sites were chosen as they are more costly and considered less sustainable than other shortlisted sites.

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher, who chaired the committee that opted for Hart, has previously said the site would only be developed if a demand was identified and said the decision was made after listening to all the evidence.

It needed 17 out of the 33 councillors to support calls for a review but only 11 did, with no Labour or Conservative councillors backing the call-in.

A council spokesman confirmed because the Putting Hartlepool First proposal did not receive enough support, the decision cannot be referred to full council.

The other Hart ward councillor, independent councillor Keith Fisher, did support the referral.

Coun Akers-Belcher has previously said there was “no dissent” from any member of the committee regarding the two Hart sites being included for consideration and speaking earlier this week said he “welcomed” that the decision would not be referred. The proposal will now go before a planning inspector in September.

The council leader also confirmed Labour councillors had not been told how to vote over the referral.

Neither Coun Beck or Robinson were available for comment despite repeated attempts by the Mail.

It comes as national gypsy and traveller organisations have written an open letter to Hartlepool MP Iain Wright and Reverend Janet Burbury, of Mary Magdalene Church in Hart, to raise concerns about children being used by the campaigners to garner support against the proposals.

They argue it could lead the children to “fear and hate” gypsies and travellers without any real knowledge or experience.

It reads: “It saddens and shocks us all that the children of Hart appear to think that living near gypsy and traveller people will inevitably mean noise, crime, alcohol, dirt and anti-social behaviour.

“This is not the case. A well managed Traveller site can become part of a local community.”

The letter has been signed by representatives from Traveller Movement, UK Association of Gypsy Women, Travellers Times and Hertfordshire Gypsy and Traveller Empowerment.