From the Paddock Wood Courier
TRAVELLERS have begun illegal work on a fourth site on the outskirts of Paddock Wood, sparking fears of a mass encampment similar to that seen at Dale Farm.
Maidstone Borough Council this week issued a legal notice to stop diggers tearing up protected fields in Willow Lane.
Residents claim to have seen as many as 20 workers laying tarmac and pouring concrete onto the green belt site, on which development is banned. Others claimed tonnes of road building material had been used.
One neighbour, whom the Courier agreed not to name, said she was worried the situation could escalate to the level of the notorious Dale Farm in Essex, where the council and travellers were locked in a decade-long battle after a legal site expanded onto council land. The hostile eviction last year made headlines around the world.
She said: "If nothing is done, this new site will open the floodgates and it will end up like the next Dale Farm. It is gut-wrenching for a lot of residents as it is completely desecrating the countryside."
Residents living nearby said there were now at least ten mobile homes plus a growing number of caravans across four different sites, all within yards of each other.
Only one site has permission to be used for residential purposes, and that is restricted to summer use, from May 1 to August 31.
Another two are subject to appeals against council enforcement notices, including a camp on fields called Green Acres, which was highlighted by the Courier in December after Travellers dug up more than 200 yards of roadside to lay their own water pipes.
Yalding Parish Council vice-chairman Vivienne Robinson said: "It is a great concern to us that these sites keep coming up.
"I know residents feel very angry but we are in close contact with the borough council and we are doing everything we can."
Maidstone Borough Council said it had acted quickly on the latest encampment by issuing a 28-day stop notice at Willow Lane – a legal process demanding the immediate halting of unauthorised work. It pledged to prosecute if the notice was breached.
Head of planning Rob Jarman said: "The temporary stop notice covers all further development and engineering works, including hard surfacing, excavation works, and the stationing of additional caravans and mobile homes."
But residents said it was too late as three stable blocks had already been built before construction was halted.
Joseph Jones, a spokesman for the Gypsy Council, blamed the problem on a lack of space being provided for travellers.
He said: "There are not enough sites in the Maidstone area for the Gypsy Traveller community, due to longstanding under-provision by the local authority and the difficulties experienced by people who have applied for planning permission to set up sites in the area."
The borough council said it was currently considering locations within the borough for a public Gypsy site for 15 pitches, following funding from the Government's Homes and Communities Agency. However, Mr Jones said attempts to discuss the issue with the council had met with "limited success".