FOUR travellers sites are expanding illegally, it has been claimed.

Planning officers at Basildon Council are investigating complaints from residents about suspected unauthorised developments at Hovefields Avenue site, Wickford, Cranfield Park Avenue and Harrow Road, both in North Benfleet, and Sadlers Farm, Bowers Gifford.

Residents fear Cranfield Park Avenue, now the borough’s second biggest site, is fast becoming another Dale Farm.

A number of residents, who refused to be named for fear of reprisals, have reported activity to the council.

One man,43, from Pound Lane, Bowers Gifford, who regularly travels past both the Sadlers Farm and Cranfield Park Avenue sites, said: “There are about 20 caravans on the site at Sadlers roundabout when the limit is supposed to be eight.

“They are taking the Mickey because on Monday they knocked down one of the outside walls and started laying hardcore, so they must be extending the boundary as well.”

He said several pitches were being developed in a field east of Cranfield Park Avenue, where there are already about 20 pitches.

Meanwhile, at Hovefields, where a series of illegal sites were demolished between 2005 and 2010, the council has received reports one traveller is buying up land there and wants to expand the site which has 16 authorised pitches. A woman, who also would not be named, said: “The council enforcement officer I reported it to said there was not much they could do anymore to stop this because there is a national shortage of sites and they need to build more anyway.”

Another man, 51, claimed to have reported rubble being laid at the back of the three-pitch site at HarrowRoad, North Benfleet, two months ago, which remained there.

Dale Farm ‘may be reoccupied’ due to overwhelming demand for sites

A TRAVELLER claims Basildon is so short of sites that pitches at Dale Farm and Hovefields, which cost millions to clear, may eventually be reoccupied.

The man, in his fifties from Hovefields, would not be named, but knows families at Cranfield Park Avenue as well, and claimed Basildon Council would be reluctant to fork out for more costly evictions when sites are still needed.

Just over three years ago, the council launched the £7million demolition of the huge illegal Dale Farm site in Oak Lane, Crays Hill.

The man said: “After Dale Farm, the council is not going throw money like that at evicting travellers again because they made such a mess of the ground and it made them look so bad to the whole world. Now they have admitted they don’t have enough sites it will be a free-for-all for new pitches on the sites round here until they do have enough.

“I would say it wouldn’t be a bad bet you might see caravans moving back on to Dale Farm and Hovefields at some point.”

Although the Dale Farm eviction was successful, several stragglers from that eviction remain illegally camped in Oak Lane next to the neighbouring legal site.

The council has failed to move them on despite defeating all legal challenges in its way last year.

Last autumn the council, which has around 140 pitches already launched a consultation asking for owners of any land that could be suitable for new sites, or existing traveller sites that could be expanded to come forward.

The ongoing study came after studies found the authority needs to provide between 170 and 240 more traveller pitches over the next 18 years.

Stuart Hardwick Carruthers, a former civil servant who helps travellers get planning permission, suspects the council will allow the newunauthorised developments to remain until the consultation is over and may eventually approve them.

He said: “With the council having to provide that sort of number of pitches, any that get built in the meantime without permission will just reduce the long-term requirement, so it is likely to be a nod and a wink and eventually they will get approved.”

Council is monitoring

BASILDON Council confirmed it was monitoring activity at all four sites and would take action if necessary.

  • SADLERS FARM: “The council's enforcement team is aware of some activity at the site and is investigating the matter.

“The council is aware of a seasonal increase in the number of caravans stationed on the site as a result of family returning temporarily to the site for the winter period and is unaware of any change in ownership. The council continues to monitor the site and will take appropriate action.”

  • CRANFIELD PARK AVENUE: “The council is currently dealing with four planning applications involving 11 pitches.

“The current planning policy position in respect of national planning policy and the absence locally of a five-year supply of deliverable sites has been explained to a local resident.

“The resident has been told that other activity now brought to the council's attention will be investigated and appropriate action will be pursued.”

  • HARROW ROAD: “The Harrow Road Traveller site is the subject of extant planning enforcement notices and court injunctions.

“The council is aware that further development in breach of the existing notices and injunctions has occurred and that is the subject of an ongoing investigation which will lead action to enforce compliance.”