Hampshire County Council is sticking with its controversial decision to close permanently the Peak Copse site at Dummer, which was set up ten years ago at a cost to the taxpayer of £650,000.

It was seen as an integral part of provision for travellers in the north-east of the county, along with Star Hill near Hartley Wintney and Penny Hill in Minley.

Yateley's county councillor Adrian Collett, who has led the campaign for its reopening, said: "This is a disastrous decision and the people of Hampshire will regret it every time they have illegal encampments on their doorsteps."

The site was open for less than four years before its "temporary" closure because of disturbances among the residents. It was said to be just for a cooling-off period, but it remained shut.

Questions have been raised since then about why a fully-equipped facility of 20 caravan pitches should not be available for use at a time the area has experienced repeated invasions by travellers, with the heavy legal costs involved in having them evicted and the expense of clearing up afterwards.

It was also pointed out that residents near land where travellers stop suffered considerable stress.

The decision to keep the site closed was taken after a report from council officers admitted that during the summer there were normally about 200 caravans moving around the county and camping on unauthorised land.

It was stated that for the county council alone the resulting costs were £98,000 for the current financial year. It was also reported that 15 families had shown interest in settling at Peak Copse.

The decision was called in after an outcry by county councillors convinced that the site should be reopened and the matter came to a special meeting of the policy and resources policy review committee.

Cllr Collett said: "I reminded the committee of the long history of gipsy site provision in Hampshire.

"The idea was to provide a network, which was not complete until Dummer was set up in 1992.

"My feeling was it was madness to close Peak Copse and was going backwards on something that people had worked hard to achieve over the years.

"A total of two-thirds of a million pounds had been invested in this scheme. Although it would cost £70,000 to bring the site up to standard for reopening, it would be possibly approaching £1million to set up another one.

"The officers had acknowledged that 15 families were ready to move on to this site and there was no doubt another five would come forward to fill it."

Cllr Collett believes the arguments against were weak.

"What was said was that that drivers had to negotiate a difficult stretch of road to get access to the site," he said.

"Yet it has been suggested in the past few days that the land should become a recycling centre — which means many more people using the same so-called dangerous access point."

Cllr Collett felt the issue became party political in the voting. A total of 12 Conservatives were in favour of the site being permanently closed, with eight Liberal Democrats and Labour councillors voting against.

"It is clear a Conservative whip was in operation and there is no mechanism for a further appeal," he said. "It has been thrown away for no logical reason and it really is a dark day for Hampshire.

"We now have 20 travelling families who have nowhere to stay and a lack of stable education or social care for their children.

"Residents and landowners also face a future of unnecessary illegal encampments."