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'Take Churston Common into private hands' call in bid to beat the travellers

By Herald Express  |  Posted: August 28, 2014

  • THEY'RE BACK: One of the traveller families on the common and, inset, Richard Haddock

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CALLS are being made to transfer Churston Common out of council ownership in a bid to deal with the problem of travellers who have returned yet again.

The community has vented anger and frustration at the situation after caravans and vehicles moved back on to the land at the end of last week.

Travellers had only been evicted from the land just a few weeks ago by Torbay Council.

They pitched up on the site on Friday. It is understood yesterday there about six caravans and vehicles.

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Boulders positioned around the land were not able to prevent access.

There are reports of them accessing the common through Slade Lane, the Windy Corner end of the common and also by moving boulders by the war memorial.

The issue has become a perennial summer problem in the Bay and costs the local economy tens of thousands of pounds a year in clear up bills alone.

Local farmer Richard Haddock says he has done all he can to protect the land from encroachment and has spent thousands of pounds of his own money to keep the common protected.

He says he was asked by a local resident to move boulders and that is where the group encroached.

He added: "They arrived on Friday.

"Everybody is very angry. They are now turning it into a mudbath up there, driving up the middle of it"

Chairman of Churston community partnership, Adam Billings, said: "There may be a benefit to the common being transferred to a registered charity to make it private land. This would allow faster and quicker evictions without the need for welfare checks.

"To the average resident nothing would change. The charity wouldn't be able to do anything the council can't on the land. It would simply be a tactical solution for speeding up the process and travellers could be evicted almost immediately."

He said this was one of four key issues they were concerned with. The others being the role of the police and their strategic directive on the issue, the issue of how do they prevent access on the perimeters of the common and how neighbouring residents need to be part of the solution as they still need access to their homes.

Mr Billings added: "We are frustrated the police are not doing more. We are trying to work with the council on perimeter defences and legal solutions. Progress could be faster.

"We need the community around the perimeter to come together and there is a commons management group that the community partnership set up for this purpose."

Mr Haddock has also called on Torbay Council to deliver on its promise to sort the problem out and wants local people to take more responsibility.

He said: "A commoner on Dartmoor or Exmoor has responsibility for protecting their own common, paying for it and managing it.

"Why should the rest of us keep doing it? I will cease in my efforts to stop them."

He said he did not think common land could be transferred to private ownership and said the answer may be an order or covenant similar to those on Paignton Green, Torre Abbey Meadows and Babbacombe Downs which prevent development could be the answer.

Slade Lane resident Jason Chitty said they were concerned byelaws which exist over camping and fires on the commons were not enforced in any way and said trees had also been damaged in the area.

He said: "There appears to be no consequences if any of these byelaws are breached.

"If, for example, there was a penalty for breaching the byelaws maybe the travellers would go elsewhere. A £500 fine per breach would have raised circa £6,000 by Saturday morning. A considerable contribution towards the cost of a permanent barrier. Why can't the council establish a fixed penalty?"

A Torbay Council spokesman was unavailable for comment.

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  • Zephyrinus  |  September 01 2014, 10:05PM

    One has to be extremely suspicious of calls to take the Common out of public ownership. One does not want to see an enormous Farm Shop erected there "for the public good".

  • wiscot  |  August 28 2014, 3:18PM

    The two elected Councillors for Churston with Galmpton are extremely quiet on this topic. Would it be possible to learn of their views and know what action they are taking on behalf of the residents that they represent?

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