I have followed the sites-for-travellers saga with much interest since the story broke prominently in the Express on September 19th with a front-page photograph of Gordon Birtwistle with a group of 11 adult protesters and six pre-teenage children.
In the accompanying report, Coun. Birtwistle claimed that the developer Keepmoat had made it clear “that they won’t be able to sell any houses so they are not going to build them any more”.
His statement was swiftly and flatly rejected by Keepmoat who emphasised their continuing commitment to working in partnership with Burnley Council and building on the succesful work so far in regenerating the neighbourhoods of Burnley Wood and South-West Burnley.
In the same Express edition some much needed light on the subject came in a letter from Julie Cooper, Birtwistle’s Labour oppenent in next year’s general election.
She made clear her opposition to any travellers sites in Burnley and explained that the matter was part of the current consultation process only because the Government, which Coun. Birtwistle supports, has insisted that the council should make land available for a travellers camp.
Excellent letters have also been published from Roger Wheeldon, a former member of the council’s property department, who recounted his experience of the difficulties caused by unauthorised occupation spells by travellers, and Chris Astin who drew attention to the Coalition Government’s legislation in 2012 requiring councils to carry out a needs assessment and identify possible permanent travellers sites.
The facts of the situation, awkward as they are for him, do not seem to have deterred Coun. Birtwistle from continuing his surely forlorn and misguided attempts to convince voters that Labour in Burnley is intent on forcing the town to accept permanent provision for travellers. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Thankfully the council has now sought definitive clarification of the issue by passing a motion calling on Coun. Birtwistle, as the town’s MP, to meet with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, to get confirmation on whether the council does or does not need to provide permanent traveller sites.
The motion, put forward by Conservative Coun. Matthew Isherwood, was passed by a large majority, with only Councillor Birtwistle and his colleague Coun. Charlie Briggs voting against. The remaining Lib Dem councillors declined to support Coun. Birtwistle’s opposition to the motion.
Of course Coun. Birtwistle may refuse this democratically arrived at request that he should meet with Mr Pickles, perhaps fearing that the Secretary of State will simply tell him to get lost.
But it’s up to you now Gordon. Put up or shut up.