Fake gypsy-site planning application posted at Harpenden wildlife site

PUBLISHED: 18:35 06 July 2013 | UPDATED: 09:22 08 July 2013

The fake

The fake "gypsy caravan" planning application was posted near a public path in Harpenden

Archant

THE battle to protect a quiet haven in affluent Harpenden where rare snails live took a sinister turn at the weekend when a fake planning application to turn the green space into a gypsy site was posted.

Fake planning application for so-called gypsy site in HarpendenFake planning application for so-called gypsy site in Harpenden

Residents were startled on Sunday to see the “scheme” with racist undertones laminated and tied – a copycat version of official council applications – stating that 200 spaces had been allocated for caravans and trailers.

The notice was attached to a fence around former allotment land on Westfield Road.

The land has been a source of controversy as campaigners have long been fighting to protect it from the clutches of Harpenden town council (HTC), which has been championing development plans for the site despite the presence of rare Roman snails.

The notice spitefully claimed the green space would be used, “in accordance with local planning law as a residential site for Eastern European Roma Gypsies”.

Alarmingly for passers-by reading the form, it warned: “Toilet facilities for the site will be installed in the future but in the initial stages of occupation slit trench facilities will be provided.

“Stand pipes for clean water will be placed at both of the entrance points to [the] area. Animals (donkeys, horses, pigs, dogs) will be allowed but limited to one animal per family. An animal ranger will be appointed to maintain the animal population together with the preservation of local wildlife.”

The fake scheme suggested residents limit the hours they parked vehicles to “allow access to this area” as entry would be via Beeching Close and Willoughby Road.

While the notice was swiftly removed by a local councillor who dismissed it as “a stupid joke done in bad taste”, neighbouring residents were particularly scathing of the anonymous prankster.

David Baird, a designer and art director of Willoughby Road, said while there had been a great deal of apathy towards the council’s development push, “it is the first time this has happened”.

He added: “My initial reaction was that it was a spoof, but my concern is that a lot of older residents could have seen it and gone into a tailspin.”

David said some neighbours assumed the notice was legitimate and a gypsy site was a “fait accompli”.

He added that some were suspicious of HTC as they believed it had a, “back plan for the site and are not being open and honest in regard to their ultimate intentions”.

But Harpenden town and district Cllr Michael Weaver, who removed the offensive notice, said “no councillor would sink to that level”.

He added: “Someone has played a stupid joke, anyone can see that, and it is in bad taste.”

Cllr Weaver said it lowered the tone of the wrangle between campaigners and the council.

The former allotment land has been a source of dispute as the council has previously stated it wants affordable homes built there.

And more recently HTC applied to St Albans district council for permission to dump soil on top of the green space from a proposed accessway it wanted to create on a neighbouring recreation site and playground. It later withdrew the scheme.

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