Two permanent traveller sites in Hart look finally set to be sold.
Hampshire County Council is planning to off-load the Star Hill Caravan Park in Hartley Wintney and the Penny Hill Caravan Park in Yateley after years of negotiations.
Council leader Roy Perry was due to agree that an offer to buy the sites be approved on March 11, but he deferred making a decision to allow further details to be obtained and reported to next month’s meeting following a representation from Yateley East county councillor Adrian Collett.
After the meeting, Cllr Collett said that he couldn’t fully disclose details on the issue as the council report was still confidential, as is the name of the buyer.
“I spoke on this issue because I recognise how important it is that we make sure that these sites are kept open for the long-term,” he said.
“Prior to the Penny Hill site opening around 20 years ago there were regular illegal encampments on local sites just about every week.
“This was awful for local residents and it was awful for the Gypsy and traveller families who had nowhere to go. Since this site opened illegal encampments have been quite rare, which shows what a good move this was for everyone concerned.”
He said he raised a number of questions when the issue of selling the site was considered.
“I’m pleased to say that my questions were treated very seriously and that is why the decision has been deferred, in order to make sure that the county council knows the full implications of what it is doing before any final decision is made.”
The council had planned to hand over the Star Hill and Penny Hill sites to Hart District Council to save money.
Years of talks
Former council leader Ken Thornber started discussions about the move in January 2010. A report prepared by officers for Cllr Thornber at the time said the council managed four permanent traveller sites with a total of 78 individual pitches. Each pitch costs £45 per week, plus £7 per week for water.
It said that since a change in the law in 1994, the county council was no longer required to provide and maintain traveller sites and that the plan to transfer ownership comes after a review of the service in 2008.
The report added that the county council’s traveller and Gypsy service, with five full-time equivalent staff, loses about £107,000 a year, with most of it connected to the permanent sites, which cost £330,000 a year to run.
But despite negotiations, Hampshire received no firm offers from Hart to take on the service.
The latest report to Cllr Perry said approving the offer to buy the sites would end its responsibility for delivering the non-statutory function. It added the move would also secure a capital receipt while providing the “best option for ensuring continuation of the level of service to these communities”.