OBJECTORS against potential new Gypsy sites in a North-East town are already rallying. Chris Webber spoke to a community leader, Steve Walmsley, who said the needs of the settled community should also be considered.
IT only takes a glance to see the anger and the worry inside Steve Walmsley.
Minutes before we speak, the leader of the Thornaby Independent Association had shouted, red-faced, in Stockton Borough Council’s planning committee.
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He could not understand how, after more than 10,000 plots of land were considered as possible Gypsy sites, two of them have ended up in his beloved Thornaby.
Coun Walmsley explained he accepted that none of the six sites initially listed for consideration may ever become Gypsy or traveller sites and that, at this stage, the council is merely initiating a public consultation, although even that has been enough for dozens of his constituents to approach him with their fears.
And he, repeatedly and emphatically, stressed it is not prejudice against any group in society that has caused his anger.
“Thornaby is a great town, very welcome to all people who want to play by the rules of the people who already live there,” he said, sitting right outside the council meeting chamber as other councillors pass by.
“That includes anyone of any race, creed or colour. But not everyone plays by those rules.
“We had a situation, a few years ago now, where nine families were moved into a street in the town.
It wasn’t those families who caused trouble but what can happen is, once you’ve got a community like that, it can act like a magnet for others who can come from all points of the compass.
They can set up mobile sites, often temporary, if there’s a funeral or something like that.
"We had trouble where a boy was being attacked right outside Thornaby council's chambers and I got all kinds of calls about trouble in the town centre.
“We also have to consider the needs of the settled community, people who have lived in the community a long time. We have to represent them, and what they want.”
Later, in another Stockton council meeting, Coun Walmsley’s point about protecting the needs of the settled community was taken up by fellow councillor, Labour’s Paul Kirton.
“It’s about people who’ve lived in our communities for years and years and years. They can end up with a blight on their neighbourhood, with caravans, trucks and horses everywhere.
"I’ve had young people with homes on to me, they know that as soon as a Gypsy site is designated in the Local Plan, even if it never comes to pass, they won’t be able to sell their homes.”
Less than an hour after he spoke dozens of ordinary Stockton folk held the first of what will, surely, be many public meetings, this one in Stockton's Tabernacle. The anger was, clearly, not confined to just Coun Walmsley.