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Statement from the Town Clerk, 11.30am 19/09/14
I am relieved to tell you that the travellers left Rock Park last night, shortly after 6.00pm. They were escorted to the county boundary near Tiverton by Devon and Cornwall Police. The timing was in some ways fortunate as the High Sheriff’s Enforcement Officer was due to attend this morning at 9.00am to evict the group, forcibly if necessary. The cost of this action has been avoided. It may be that the travellers - whom I understand had said they would stay until Sunday and possibly then to relocate to another site in Barnstaple – were aware of this intended action and moved on voluntarily to avoid the spectacle of a forced eviction.
Proceedings to evict had been instigated on Monday morning, so the time from then until the travellers’ departure was under four days. This included two days’ notice which we are required to give the court. Barnstaple Town Council is grateful to its legal advisers, the Police, the courts and other organisations involved for their prompt help in keeping the duration of the encampment as short as possible.
Nonetheless, this was a completely unacceptable action on the part of these travellers. We understand their desire for a place to stay, but Rock Park should not have been that place. It has no facilities for travellers. The group’s presence caused significant disruption to legitimate users of the park, and I have been contacted by many local people who felt both intimated and incensed, particularly at the mindless damage to trees, and at the large number of dogs, vehicles, etc. We hope that the prompt action taken sends a clear message that the community of Barnstaple will not tolerate such behaviour in Rock Park.
A ‘toleration site’ is provided for use by travellers in Seven Brethren, and that fact that this was in use by the travelling Showmen’s Guild – who pay rent for the privilege – does not justify the unauthorised use of a public park by the this group of travellers. I have heard concerns that more sites are not available in Devon, but again this simply does not justify the use of a public park for the purpose; nor does it excuse the damage caused. Those who argue for additional sites should make their case to the statutory agencies rather than try to defend the indefensible use of Rock Park in this way.
In case there was any confusion amongst residents, this group has absolutely no connection with the Showmen’s Guild, which provides the wonderful fun fair that is the centrepiece to Barnstaple Fair each year.
The park has this morning been cleared of litter and other items left by the travellers. The adjacent football pitch has been cleared of horse faeces and the grass cut. It is helpful that much of the clear-up has been carried out as part of the routine grounds maintenance activity at the park, as this helps to keep costs to a minimum. Some further work is required, including the assessment of damage to the trees, but the area of the park occupied by the travellers is now available for the public to use. I am very sorry for any inconvenience caused to visitors to the park during the encampment, although I do hope people will recognise that we acted as quickly as possible to restore the park to full use.
I am advised that to attempt to take legal action to recover costs, or to prosecute for the damage caused, would in all likelihood be fruitless and very costly. This is very frustrating and I share the anger of fellow residents, but in effect we would be throwing good money after bad. The important thing is to keep the costs involved as low as possible, and we have tried very hard to do that. The Police and other agencies will shortly come together to see what actions can be taken to reduce the potential for unauthorised encampments, to limit the adverse effects and costs of encampments such as this one, and to minimise the time it takes to evict in such cases.
Will Austin, Town Clerk, Barnstaple Town Council
Tel 01271 373311
Welcome to Barnstaple
Barnstaple is situated in the valley of the river Taw, and is surrounded by stunning countryside. The beaches of Saunton, Croyde, Putsborough, Woolacombe, and Westward Ho! are within easy reach, as are the wide-open spaces of Exmoor.
This historic town has much to interest the visitor. The Parish Church of St Peter and St Mary Magdalene, with its twisted spire, stands in the centre of the town. Next-door is St Anne's Arts and Community Centre one of the oldest buildings in Barnstaple, where the poet and playwright John Gay, author of the Beggar's Opera, attended school. Barnstaple Heritage Centre, on the riverside at Queen Anne's Walk, tells the story of over a thousand years of the town's history, where the past comes to life in a fascinating hands-on exhibition.
The Town, said to be one of the oldest Boroughs in England, is the commercial heart of North Devon. Shopping centres and national stores sit easily beside family businesses and traditional markets.
The Pannier Market in Barnstaple recently celebrated its 150th Anniversary. The general market is held throughout the year on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, while seasonal markets on Mondays and Thursdays specialise in Local Crafts. The popular Antiques Market takes place every Wednesday.
The opening of Barnstaple Fair in September is the major civic event of the year, and the tradition is said to be as old as the town itself. The ceremony takes place at the Guildhall, where civic dignitaries and invited members of the public are guests of the Mayor and the Town Council. A white-gloved hand is suspended high over the street from the Guildhall to symbolise the open hand of friendship, and to welcome all who attend the fair.
Barnstaple has much to offer all year round. With its unique character it remains largely unspoiled and is one of the most delightful towns in the Southwest.
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