Surprise new twist to traveller debate

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THE struggle to resolve the conundrum of where travellers should be allowed to camp in Leeds has taken an unexpected twist with council chiefs confirming vacant land close to the Crown Point retail park is among sites being considered.

Leeds City Council is under pressure to find a number of temporary bases around the city which can be used by travelling families while the authority seeks somewhere they can be accommodated on a more long-term basis.

Councillors thought the issue had been at least partially solved when they gave their approval to 12 additional pitches at the Cottingley Springs travellers site.

However, the proposal has since been called in by the Secretary of State and a final decision will rest with a planning inspector.

Without an interim solution, travellers camps have appeared in a number of locations around Leeds - most recently at the South Leeds Sports Centre in Beeston and under the flyover at the interchange between the inner ring road and Kirkstall Road.

However, council bosses have acknowledged the authority needs to seek better solutions and, this week, Labour leader Coun Peter Gruen confirmed vacant land adjacent to Kidacre St - currently being cleared after standing empty for 30 years - could be among the options.

He said: “A number of options are currently being explored to bring the site back into use - including for its potential use as a site for travellers. However, none of these options can be realised unless work is carried out to prepare the area.

“No final decisions have been made as to how the site will be used and further consultation and discussions will take place with ward members and the local community.”

The surprise revelation that Crown Point is being considered as a potential site for travellers prompted Tory leader Coun Andrew Carter to urge council leaders to “come clean” on the issue.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that, with elections looming, the Labour group is just trying to keep things quite,” he said. “However, all they’re doing is creating uncertainty and it’s just not good enough to use smoke and mirrors in these circumstances.

“We all accept sites for travellers need to be provided but, if the council isn’t open, it just makes it look as though it’s hiding something. I would urge the Labour group to come clean.”

The Liberal Democrats’ housing spokesman, Coun Jonathan Bentley, added: “Whilst I agree there is a need for additional pitches for gypsies and travellers, the council has to be open and transparent in the way it identifies any new sites. The proper planning process must be followed and the council should make sure it listens to residents’ views as part of this process.”

Flora Mewies of Ward Hadaway

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