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A homeless Gypsy family will only have a limited stay on a council’s car park because of a verbal deal between its leader and a well-known tourist attraction

todayDecember 5, 2022 18

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This is an advisory for the article titled “DERBYSHIRE DALES: Leader’s Travellers deal. Cllr Purdy has now provided a statement and the copy below has now been updated to include this statement. Please alter your articles accordingly.

A homeless Gypsy family will only have a limited stay on a council’s car park because of a verbal deal between its leader and a well-known tourist attraction.

A Derbyshire Dales District Council meeting on November 24 heard that there is a verbal agreement between Cllr Garry Purdy and The Heights of Abraham in Matlock Bath.

This agreement, which was made in private and without the knowledge or consent of the council, taxpayers and the other 38 councillors, will limit the homeless Gypsy family to just over nine weeks on the Matlock Bath station coach park.

Cllr Purdy denies there was a deal between him and the heights of Abraham and claimed the authority’s chief executive would confirm the time limit was based on previous experience of the tourist attraction’s season, starting in early February.

The family, who the council owe a legal duty to accommodate, would need to be moved to another site after January 31 in a bid to avoid an impact on the tourist trade in the area coming out of winter.

It was confirmed in the meeting that the family in question, who identify as Romani Gypsy, have already been moved to the Matlock Bath site from the Clifton Road coach park in Ashbourne after spending the summer and autumn on the plot.

Opposition councillors sought to change this agreement to a more open-ended one, that the family would be allowed to stay in Matlock Bath until a suitable alternative site – temporary or permanent – was adopted.

James McLaughlin, the council’s director of corporate and customer services and monitoring officer, said the authority would need to have adopted another site by Christmas to obtain a court eviction order in time to move the family on from the end of January.

Cllr Mike Ratcliffe, leader of the council’s Labour Group, said the “verbal agreement” between Cllr Purdy and the Heights of Abraham owner dated back to 2019/2020 to avoid disruption to the coach parking facilities and views for visitors.

He chose to support the temporary plan, saying: “Of course this is not the complete answer but it is perhaps the first step in moving towards an acceptable, even if temporary solution for all involved, and not least the Travellers themselves.”

Cllr Andrew Shirley, chairman of the council, confirmed the deal was between Cllr Purdy and the Heights of Abraham, a country park and set of historic caverns set on the cliffside above Matlock Bath and accessed by cable cars.

Cllr Steve Wain questioned: “Are we as an organisation putting the profits possibly of one company in Matlock Bath above the welfare of these homeless people in the middle of winter?”

He said the deadline should be until March 31, calling the January date “absurd”.

Cllr Steve Flitter, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat Group, claimed he and other councillors received a “threatening” email from Cllr Purdy “using language like ‘not over my dead body’ in relation to the Matlock Bath site.

He questioned: “What right has the leader of this council got to have a verbal agreement with another business? That should have come to council.”

Cllr Flitter said he was “angry” at the way members of the council may have been influenced by the  email from the authority’s leader.

Cllr Peter O’Brien said the “artificial deadline” of January 31 is “unlikely to be achieved” and therefore should be scrapped.

He said it would not be “rational or moral” to approve a deadline “in the full knowledge that it is very unlikely that it will be achieved”.

A statement by Cllr Sue Burfoot, read out at the meeting, questioned why the site had been limited to January 31 purely because “one particular tourist attraction does not want Travellers on what is our car park because coach drivers are reluctant to park there”.

She said a plot in Watery Lane near the Ashbourne council depot should be considered.

Cllr Martin burfoot said the adoption of temporary sites for two homeless families at the Matlock and Matlock Bath train stations represented an “unfair geographical balance” with the area “bearing the brunt of the issue”.

He said the area was “periodically swamped” by Gypsy and Traveller families outside of those who are recognised as both local and homeless.

Cllr Ratcliffe intimated that a potential permanent site in Matlock Bath would be “on stream” in February, and other currently unnamed sites were being investigated and may come forward.

Cllr Sue Hobson, deputy leader, said: “We simply cannot go on moving these families, to whom we owe a duty of care, from one unsuitable location to another. It is not fair on them and it is not fair on the communities around them.”

She claimed members of the council had not been “influenced” by Cllr Purdy’s email.

Cllr Purdy had not provided a statement at the time of the article’s publication because has not available due to personal reasons.

On December 5 he provided a statement saying: “Opposition councillors not only got facts wrong pertinent to the findings of the council’s Traveller Working Group, but I was personally attacked with a tissue of lies and the inference that some kind of deal had been done by me with the Heights of Abraham.

“The council’s chief executive (Paul Wilson) will confirm that a clear and conscious decision with regard to the January 31 deadline was taken based upon previous experience that the Heights of Abraham season starts during the first week in February. It had nothing to do with any private arrangement involving me.

“At no time have I entered into any kind of deal with the Heights of Abraham.

“I was also accused at the full council meeting of interfering in the work of the Traveller Working Group and that I had laid down some kind of instruction to the chair of the group.

“This is a scurrilous accusation, cowardly in my absence and one I absolutely deny. It is a slur on my good character that certain opposition members inferred this.”

Cllr Hobson, chair of the new Gypsy and Traveller site working group, said the authority was not currently providing long-term solutions, but “stepping stones”.

A report from the working group recommended that the station sites in Matlock and Matlock Bath be adopted as temporary sites, with Matlock occupied since 2020 and Matlock Bath vacated for most if not all of the past two years.

A report from the new working group has also recommended that 27 potential council-owned sites in Ashbourne, Ashford, Bakewell, Baslow, Eyam, Hartington, Hulland Ward, Matlock, Matlock Bath, Northwood, Tansley, Rowsley, Stoney Middleton and Wirksworth are ruled out.

It says members were looking for the “least worst” option and currently investigating five potential plots.

Cllr Purdy was approached for comment but could not be reached and has not responded as of this article’s publication.

The Heights of Abraham was approached for comment but has not responded as of this article’s publication.

Written by: NDR NEWS

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