HOMEOWNERS living on an estate where travellers set up camp on their way to Appleby Horse Fair expressed relief after most of the caravans left the site this afternoon (Sunday).

The travellers, who are en route to the annual Gypsy and traveller gathering in Cumbria, set up camp at Startforth Park, in Barnard Castle, a week ago following the closure of an official temporary stopover site at Shawbank, which was waterlogged from heavy rain.

In response, Durham County Council opened up a former salt depot at nearby Barforth Park for them to use instead.

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After many caravans remained at Startforth Park, on Friday, 15 residents held a two-hour protest outside the Deerbolt Young Offenders Institute, which owns the land where the encampment was set-up.

Later that afternoon, the Ministry of Justice, issued Notice to Vacate warnings around the site, giving the travellers 24-hours to move on.

A spokesman on behalf of the residents living near the site said: “Most of them have gone, there was a mass exodus this afternoon.

“There are still about a dozen left but that is a massive reduction.

“We are obviously very pleased.

“Now we need to do some work to ensure that the pressure that has been put on the Governor (of Deerbolt) and the Ministry of Justice is applied in such a way that they clean the place up.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said the department would not tolerate any unlawful use of prison land.

He said: “We have instructed the Treasury Solicitor to commence immediate action to secure the eviction of trespassers in the grounds of HMYOI Deerbolt.

"We take the concerns of local residents very seriously and the Governor is working closely with police and local authorities to help minimise any disruption and ensure a swift and secure resolution to the situation.”

The situation will be discussed at the next meeting of the Startforth Park Residents’ Association.

The residents’ spokesman added: “We are all very annoyed with the whole situation and very frustrated by it.

“The place is a complete mess.

“The grass is all churned up and not usable for our own children to play on after they leave.

“They (the travellers) have had no consideration for the residents at all.

“It is not part of the designated sites and they are plenty of those around.”