So more itinerant travellers have landed in Congleton and caused problems. This time they parked on the playing fields of a local school and forced community classes to be cancelled. Last time they were on Barn Road, causing at least one local business to take extra security measures.
But the travellers — they’re not gypsies but Irish — divide opinion, as we found out on our Facebook page.
At one end was the “thieving scum” argument. “Mostly parasites living off the rest of us… I doubt that they pay tax. They camp where they like, leaving the rest of us to pick up the tab,” was one view, admittedly a tiny minority.
Moving a little towards the centre ground were people who disliked travellers for more tempered reasons, such as the fact that law-abiding people had had their evening classes cancelled, or the fact that young travellers had gate-crashed events and, when asked to leave, come out with verbal abuse that’s far too rude to print here. If the travellers would behave, this group would be quite tolerant.
At the other end of the spectrum was the anarchist view: that the legal system is based on the agreement that we blindly follow it, and some “free men of the land” choose not to.
However, a fair few people were sympathetic to the travellers and it was harder to resist their arguments. Some even compared a bit of mess with the open country being lost to developers.
Partly the tolerance was based on (we’d guess) Christian values: “They are precious, human beings no different to ourselves” and “If we are honest, none of us ever (stay) truly within the confines of the law”.
Many people looked at the problems caused by locals. This was particularly true in the week when Astbury Mere was in the news for the huge amounts of mess visitors have left, but almost every week we report vandalism, fly-tipping or more serious criminal damage.
All of this is cleared up at the taxpayer’s expense, and it’s no argument to suggest that people who pay council tax have the right to cause damage, because their taxes pay for the repairs.
A number of people made the point that there were no temporary pitches for travellers, so they were forced camp illegally (or at least trespass, which is a civil law offence, not criminal).
“If they had a proper place to go that would be ok,” said one person.
“People are always bleating about (the number of) of brown field sites in the area. (These) could be used to offer a safe place for travelling families,” said another.
It was hard not to have some sympathy with this point of view.
Cheshire East Council last year consulted on sites for travellers, and we hope to be able to give some progress on this next week. The problem with temporary transit sites is that no-one wants them next to their homes. Indeed, as we report this week, Smallwood councillors and residents are objecting to pitches in the village. Whatever sites Cheshire East Council recommends in its consultation, the odds are people will object. People don’t want travellers near them, but complain when they camp illegally.
The problems are further exacerbated by the law — Cheshire East Council’s website notes: “The advice from the Government is that provided the gypsies/travellers are not causing a problem, it is possible that the site will be tolerated.”
Fair enough: except it goes on to say that if a landowner allows travellers to stay, they could be in breach of the planning acts and the acts dealing with the licensing of caravan sites.
If the law is in such disarray, how can we hope to find a solution?
On our Facebook site, one person asked: “Has anyone ever even bothered to befriend travellers or any other groups that come to the town?”
The answer to that is yes: this writer, when a trainee reporter in rural Worcestershire (rather bravely) approached a caravan parked on a playing field and, after some stern words, was warmly welcomed into the caravan and given a brew. The husband, a Mr Smith (they all are), said the daughter attended a special school some miles away for dyslexia so her family had to say within a certain radius of the school.
From there things got more complicated, which reflects the confusion in the law.
The editor refused to print the story, saying people didn’t want a sympathetic account of travellers. The police helped to serve an injunction and Mr Smith and his family left. When your intrepid reporter went back, he was saddened to find broken glass on a football pitch and a hedge used as an open toilet.
So: Mr Smith and his family were nice but left a terrible mess and the locals didn’t even want to read about them.
On our Facebook page someone wrote: “People should try opening their mind and embracing other cultures, and realise that there is life beyond the A34,” which is fine until that other culture leaves broken glass where kids are going to play football and turds where people walk their dogs.
It seems clear that the first step should be temporary pitches, so we hope the council can find sites that people do not object to.
If temporary pitches exist, travellers have less excuse to camp illegally, and you would hope that the law could be amended to reflect this.
In the meantime: more tolerance anyone?