From the Northern Echo
OFFICIALS have opened a temporary site for Travellers near Bishop Auckland to stop illegal camps.
After complaints from residents in the area about camps being set up on playing fields and green areas near their homes, police and members of Durham County Council have arranged for an official site for the Travellers to stay.
The site, in the Gurney Valley, near Eldon, will have temporary toilets and facilities for the Travellers to use as they pass through the area on their way to the Appleby Horse Fair, in Cumbria, which starts today and runs until Wednesday.
Scott McInally, Traveller liaison officer for the council, said the scheme has worked well in Teesdale for five years but this is the first time a temporary stopover site has been used in Wear Valley.
He said: "We can't stop the travellers coming through County Durham and we wouldn't want to, but we also have to react to the concerns of the communities.
"Even if there is not necessarily anti-social behaviour resulting from these encampments, the public perception is very strong and also, judging from the feedback from the Travellers in Teesdale, they do prefer to have their own site."
He said that incidents reported to police have fallen by 30 per cent for two years running in Teesdale.
County councillors for West Auckland Rob Yorke and Andy Turner worked with police to identify a suitable site and have also arranged for sites previously used illegally to be blocked.
Five other councillors from the Bishop Auckland and Shildon area also contributed towards the funding of the site.
Councillor Yorke said: "We get a lot of complaints about residents who are unhappy with these camps on their doorsteps, but the problem has always been that the Travellers have nowhere else to go.
"So we could target the problem sites, such as the playing field next to the Spar, in St Helen Auckland, but we would just be moving the problem on.
"Now there is an official place where the Travellers are welcome to stay, which is better for them as well keeping residents happy."
Meanwhile police in Teesdale have been visiting the official sites already being used, and Sergeant Chris Knox said themajority of Travellers have now moved on.