A row has erupted over suggestions that travellers living at Leeds’s only permanent traveller site are against its expansion.
Leeds City Council’s controversial plans for a £1m expansion of Cottingley Springs, which would see it grow from 41 to 53 pitches, have seen criticism from residents in south Leeds.
Morley Borough Independent (MBI) councillors have previously labelled their bid to have the plans abandoned as “a unified campaign with residents, councillors and travellers on the site”.
But travellers on site and welfare groups appear split on the council’s traveller policy.
Eileen Lowther, a traveller who has lived on the south Leeds site for 30 years, said the plans, which will be supported if road safety is taken into account, will not meet all the need for new pitches alone.
She said: “The Morley councillors would do better to be identifying somewhere suitable for a site, near shops and schools, instead of using us as a target for gaining votes.”
The expansion, which is expected to follow improvements to the 41 pitches currently on site, is part of the council’s bid to cut the bill of over £2m it has paid clearing unauthorised encampments in the last decade.
Tommy Collins, the Leeds organiser of the Justice for Travellers group, said: “None of the residents paying rent wanted to see Cottingley Springs expanded, if anything it’s still too big.”
Mr Collins, who says he has not been to Cottingley in four years, believes the council needs to set up four small permanent sites in different areas of Leeds.
Helen Jones, chair of Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange, accused MBI councillors’s claims of a unified campaign as using travellers as a “political football”.
She said: “In the face of so many people being homeless and it being the only thing put forward, it’s very difficult for us to come out right and object.”
The expansion plan is still awaiting planning consent.
Coun Robert Finnigan (MBI, Morley North) said: “The present proposal breaches central and local government guidance as traveller sites should be located on brownfield locations close to local facilities such as schools and health centres. This plan fails on all these criteria.”
He said in an interview with BBC Leeds, Ms Lowther suggested she was against the expansion and added the council’s consultation alone showed their campaign was “reasonably unified”.
Coun Peter Gruen, the council’s lead member for neighbourhoods and housing, said: “Health and children’s education I consider to be totally valued, we need to ensure that council services are properly provided.”