Concrete blocks will close sites used by travellers in Torbay

A police van passing Paignton Green, where a group of travellers had gathered

A police van passing Paignton Green, where a group of travellers had gathered - Credit: Ed Oldfield

Open spaces across Torbay including Paignton Green on the seafront are to be sealed off with concrete blocks in an attempt to prevent traveller camps.

Torbay Council is planning to also close off access at White Rock playing fields in Paignton, and in Torquay at King George V playing fields in St Marychurch, Lindisfarne Park at The Willows,  and Torre Valley in Chelston, Torquay.

All the areas have been used by travellers, and more sites could follow as the council is carrying out a review to identify all the public spaces which have been used for encampments in the last three years.

The work is being treated as urgent after plans for a temporary stopping site in Torbay appear to have fallen through.

The national charity working on behalf of Gipsies, Roma and Travellers, described the move to block off access to the land as an overreaction and accused the council of 'lack of adequate planning' by not providing an authorised site.

Sarah Mann, director at Friends, Families and Travellers, said: “As Torbay Council recognise, a temporary stopping site needs to be established so that travellers have somewhere to stop.

“Evictions and concrete blocks are like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

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“Their measures push the burden on gypsy and traveller people, as well as the local settled community, to pick up the pieces for the council’s lack of adequate planning.

“It is illogical to tell people where they cannot go without telling them where they can go. It is also cruel and punitive to collectively punish members of any minority ethnic group for the actions of the few. Everyone needs a safe place to live.”

A group of travellers arrived on Paignton Green at the Easter weekend and another group was using the Clennon Valley car park in Paignton in early May.

Last summer rented motorhomes were parked on the clifftop at Corbyn Head on Torquay seafront, causing an outcry from residents.

Several sites across Torbay were used by travellers last summer and Paignton Green was occupied twice by large gatherings at the peak of the holiday season.

The police used legal powers in August to remove a group due to allegations of anti-social behaviour and criminal damage.

Council workers had to carry out clean-up operations including at White Rock and King George V playing fields after encampments last year.

The authority had been close to a deal with a landowner to create an authorised site on the edge of Torbay but legal reasons appear to have stopped the project going ahead.

The council is now renewing its search for land to provide a dedicated place for travellers to park.

Travellers on Paignton Green

Travellers on Paignton Green - Credit: Ed Oldfield

Council leader Steve Darling said: “We just need to get on and see what protection we can provide for Torbay. I have asked officers to treat it as urgent.

“This is a starter where there were incursions last year. We are doing a review of all of our areas which have had incursions over the last three years.

“Some travellers are responsible and don’t leave a mess. But we do get ones like we had at King George playing fields where we were left with a mess.

“The toilet block was vandalised and a badly injured dog was left behind.

“It is that minority of travellers that give a bad name to the majority, who are reasonable people.”

Providing an official stopping place allows police to use powers to quickly move travellers from an unauthorised location.

But without an official site, the council has to use a lengthy process including health and welfare checks before applying to the court for eviction.

That would normally take up to two weeks, but could now be much longer because of a backlog in the courts due to the pandemic.

Car parks are harder to prevent unlawful camps being set up because they have to remain open for normal use.