POTENTIAL locations for a transit site for travelling families in Northumberland are being re-evaluated after questions were raised over the original selection process.
Fourteen sites were originally identified and examined by the county council for the £311,000, eight-pitch temporary facility for gipsy and Roma travellers.
Land on the edge of an industrial estate in Ennerdale Road, Blyth, emerged as the preferred location, after it scored highest against a set of Government criteria.
Confirmation of the chosen site was expected to be given by the council’s executive two months ago – but a decision was deferred following requests to look more closely at other potential sites.
The postponement followed the submission of a 677-name petition from people in the Cowpen and Kitty Brewster area of Blyth, opposing the Ennerdale Road site and calling for others to be considered more fully.
The executive agreed that a special task group should examine the process that had been followed in selecting the proposed site.
Now the group, chaired by Conservative county councillor Glen Sanderson, has met for the first time, and asked officers to re-evaluate prospective sites using a re-modelled set of criteria.
Officers have also been asked to consult with other local authorities on best practice in providing transit sites for travellers, and report back to the task group with their findings in February.
The £311,000 funding from the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency is aimed at helping to tackle the problem of unauthorised encampments by groups of travellers in Northumberland. An official transit site will reduce the cost of managing illegal encampments, both in terms of staff time and clear-up costs.
Blyth Town Council voiced a number of concerns about the proposal to develop Ennerdale Road. It questioned why a transit site is not being built in the west of the county, and fears that the facility could lead to the loss of current or potential jobs in Blyth. The town council also has concerns that travellers might remain on the site permanently.
Yesterday Coun Sanderson said: “The task group were not convinced that Ennerdale Road is the right site and not persuaded that the correct and fully criteria was considered.
“We asked the officers to re-look at the checklist and that might bring up other sites which are less controversial.
“The last thing we want is to impose something on local people against their wishes.”
The re-modelled criteria to be used in re-assessing the sites includes proximity to an A-class road and accessibility, and proximity to public transport routes, health services, education and training.
It also includes whether the site will allow “harmonious relations and integrated co-existence,” with the local community, and issues such as flood risk.