Travellers must leave or face court action

Travellers parked on the land known as The Orchard off Hesketh Meadow Lane in Lowton
Travellers parked on the land known as The Orchard off Hesketh Meadow Lane in Lowton

Travellers were given a deadline to leave a patch of open land or face legal action last night following a shake-up of the council’s policy.

A large group of caravans and vans pitched up on land known as The Orchard in Lowton on the Sunday of the bank holiday weekend.

Worried ward councillors immediately contacted Wigan Council and bailiffs were dispatched to the site off Hesketh Meadow Lane on Tuesday, saying further action would be taken if they did not leave by 7pm on Wednesday.

The prompt response came after a group of travellers recently caused outrage in Lowton by parking on The Rose Centre’s car park and embarking on a wrecking spree inside the hall and around the grounds.

Following that incident elected representatives met with the town hall to ensure eviction processes did not have to go through the courts and travellers could therefore be removed from local authority land quicker.

The use of the open land also means the travellers were unable to gain access to previously-used sites such as The Rose Centre and Pennington Flash Country Park following the installation of new barriers and bollards.

Conservative ward representative for Lowton East, Coun James Grundy, said: “There’s a huge amount of concern from local people so credit has to go to the council chief executive Donna Hall who broke off her holiday to get this sorted out.

“This is proof that the money we have invested in bollards and barriers for the civic hall and the flash has been effective as they haven’t been able to get on there.

“It’s now just a case of getting them off the land as quickly as possible as the community is obviously worried that something similar to last time could happen again.”

The travellers’ presence at The Orchard has not been entirely without incident as Lowton East ward representative Coun Edward Houlton visited the site to take photographs and video footage of what was happening and a confrontation ensued.

It is believed insults were hurled in both directions and one of the travellers rang the police claiming to be intimidated, a move Coun Houlton described as “pathetic”.

However, officers from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) attended, spoke to both parties and agreed no further action will be taken.

Rumours in the community suggested the travellers on The Orchard may have been some of the same ones whodescended on The Rose Centre earlier this year but this could not be confirmed.

Wigan Council said the group would be evicted if they did not leave within 24 hours of notice being served and had a clean-up team ready to go to The Orchard.

The town hall is also working to see if further measures can be put in place to restrict access to the area.

The incident is one of the first tests of the council’s new hardline policy on travellers, which was partly sparked by the scenes at The Rose Centre which saw alcohol stolen and smashed and trees cut down.

Penny McGinty, assistant director for leisure and property at Wigan Council, said: “Following issues earlier this year a task group was set up with Greater Manchester Police to look at how we place travellers across the borough and how we tackle them on our land.

“We are developing a new policy and are working with a specialist service to ensure action is taken as quickly as possible.”

The incidents earlier this year caused huge concern in Lowton and residents and ward representatives were outraged when the state the site was left in became clear.

Around 20 caravans broke the locks on the civic venue’s gate and parked up outside the centre, forcing several events to be cancelled.

The travellers’ presence caused extensive disruption, with junior football sessions on the civic fields having to be cancelled and The Rose Centre calling off its dance classes.

Once the group was finally evicted the management faced a huge clear-up job as glass in the bar area and throughout the hall was smashed, furniture from inside The Rose Centre was dragged outside and burned and almost every bottle of alcohol in the venue was either stolen or deliberately broken. Clean-up crews filled four vans with the rubbish left over on the site.

The trail of destruction sparked calls for an urgent review of how travellers are dealt with in the borough.