Why was Watery Lane Clifton ever shortlisted as a Traveller site?

September 7, 2020 8:48 AM
By Peter Dobbs

Coal Yard Clifton (Street View)

Coal Yard Clifton in 2019 (c) Google Street View

The Coal Yard off Watery lane Clifton was probably one of the worst kept 'secrets' of Derbyshire Dales District Council

The council's members and officers are on record as saying the authority had 'failed in its duties to house a family of travellers who have registered as homeless - with the council legally obliged to assist and that it must resolve the issue as a priority'.

For nearly a year a "secret" site, which was being touted as the solution for the district's failed duties, was well-known to be a coal yard in Clifton, near Ashbourne. A well organised campaign by the Clifton Parish Council put forward a detailed case as to the unsuitability of this location.

More than 360 residents (and the district's Conservative MP Sarah Dines) objected to the plan.

The issues behind the unsuitability were spelt out by many councillors at the Zoom Meeting on 3rd September. Lib Dem Councillor Rob Archer who lives in the village of Clifton spoke about his concerns over that site (the preferred one of the traveller family in question) including the flood risk, lack of local amenities, its proximity to the Shrovetide goal as well as the potential cost of decontamination

However it should have been clear that to house the travellers there permanently at a cost over 30 years of more than £1 million in rent was never going to be acceptable to a Council that is not known for taking on substantial financial liabilities.

So why was it ever put forward?

Perhaps it always was a red herring - a proposed alternative would then seem acceptable because it would have a much lower price tag.

Perhaps the arrival of the Tansley site was indeed the 'fortuitous' consequence of the previous occupier of the site dropping his case for ownership when threatened with legal action by DDDC

But for it to suddenly become the site of choice for both the temporary and permanent location of the travellers' caravans without any detailed costings seems impetuous and financially unwise.

As for the people of Tansley, given just days to evaluate the impact of the site, this does seem to be unfair in the extreme. It is hard to regard as objective the comments at the council meeting by Councillor Shirley (Conservative Ward member for Clifton and Bradley) that residents of Clifton and Tansley had the same amount of notice.

However the Parish Council and local residents of Tansley may prove just as adept at campaigning as they prepare for the planning application. There does appear to be much case history that will make this application a far from straightforward one.

There are however two significant issues that will not be considered at planning - the cost of adapting a site on an old rubbish tip with no water, electricity or mains drainage and whether the family will want to stay at such a remote location. These may prove the more decisive in the future.