A COUNCIL has dismissed elderly residents’ claims that they are being unfairly evicted from stables they lease for their beloved horses as the authority needs land to avert illegal travellers camps.

Several leaseholders at Darlington Borough Council’s stables at Brankin Road, off Neasham Road, say eviction notices served by the authority could mean a death sentence for some of the eight horses at the site.

One of the horse owners, Lorraine Roach, 71, said she had been bewildered by the council’s claim in the eviction notices that the site was now considered unsuitable to keep horses due to frequent flooding.

She said: “In the 13 years I have been there I have had no issue with flooding, the council is using it as an excuse. There may have been more flooding this year, but it was a particularly wet winter.

"We have got Nell, my Dales pony cross who’s 27 and there’s Perl who’s 32. If we can’t find anywhere to keep them, it’s a one-way ticket to horse heaven. Even if we could sell them no one would want to buy them because they are too old, but I don’t want to sell my horse. I’ve had her for 27 years and she’s like a member of the family. It breaks my heart.”

Mrs Roach said the council had not approached her to offer relocating her horse.

Raising concerns at a meeting of the council’s cabinet, Councillor Ian Haszeldine said the eviction notices were impacting on the mental health of a number of elderly residents.

He said that while the council had stated there were flooding issues at the site, investigations had revealed the authority was clearing the site to avoid costly legal actions for having too few places for travellers to live.

Cllr Haszeldine said: “What I don’t get is why these residents were misinformed. Is it because if they knew the real facts they should have been offered compensation rather than eviction?”

However, the meeting heard senior council officers and cabinet members confirm the reason for the evictions was due to the site being unsuitable for animals due to “constant flooding”.

Housing and health cabinet member Councillor Kevin Nicholson scotched a claim he had suggested to a resident that the council had an ulterior motive for the evictions and accused Cllr Haszeldine of using the issue for political gain. He said numerous residents had raised concerns for the welfare of the animals on the site, particularly when it flooded and temperatures were low.

The meeting was told the council had spent thousands of pounds attempting to resolve the flooding issues at the site and during negotiations with the stable’s leaseholders had even offered handing the building over to them to manage. Senior officers said suggestions the site was being lined up for travellers was “inappropriate and incorrect”.

The authority’s local services cabinet member Cllr Andy Keir said relocations had been offered to the residents before the eviction notices were issued and that he was unaware of any planning notification for the site. He said: “The council cannot continue to pay for the cost of those stables continually flooding. It is not a case of what we can do.”