Scores of migrant agricultural workers from Eastern Europe face eviction from a 'secret' caravan site on the outskirts of Gloucester
More than 20 static caravans on land near Newent are the subject of an enforcement notice issued by Forest of Dean District Council.
If upheld, It could force as many as 70 people out of their homes. The site at Sandyway Nurseries is home to 23 mobile homes.
The landlord claims those living there are land workers and has been providing accommodation to hundreds of people over the past decade.
Enforcement action will shut down the operation under a breach of planning terms. The makeshift camp has no full time sewerage, and is serviced by a cesspit.
One Newent resident, who did not want to be named, said: “The planning application says the people living in the caravan work at nearby nurseries, but we know they work in other businesses.
“They are picked up in a bus and taken to work all over this area. You see them walking to and from the site at night. There is no footpath and no lighting. Big lorries regularly drive past. It is dangerous.”
Farmers and some residents have said they are living in fear of reprisals from workers should they speak out against the landowners plans to expand the caravan site further.
Although some caravans are in good condition, others appear more run down. Most homes have a car parked outside, some are luxury brands like Mercedes and BMW.
The enforcement action is under appeal. If successfully overturned, residents fear it could pave the way for the caravan site to be expanded, or even houses built on the land. Farmers say the soil is some of the best agricultural soil in the country.
Another resident said: “The site is tucked away. It is quite secretive. No one has objected as very few know about it.
“Newent is a community. But many of these people don’t want to be apart of that. They want to establish their own community.
“If these people are here legally, we should be housing them properly and looking after their welfare, not dumping them on a makeshift traveller site with an open sewer. We shouldn’t be hiding them away.”
Owner of Sandyway Nurseries Jacob Van der Lely said the people living there are legally entitled to work and is determined to fight enforcement action.
“We have been paying council tax from the very beginning,” he said.
“We will fight this to the death. We are in the middle of a big fruit picking empire here. We were asked to put mobile homes up for the nursery supervisors and have just expanded. I refuse to be wiped out by out of date planning laws.
“The council arrived with a notice for each person. It was quite threatening. Most are Romanian or Bulgarian and do not speak English.
“I have told the council I do not want to build houses here and made that clear.
“We have complied with all the other environmental considerations. There is foul water going out into the mains and have a proper full drainage system. We are not just trying to put money in our back pockets.
“I take rent from the people living in the caravans, but that is spent on maintenance. There is no question of any illegal immigrants here, you won’t get any trouble from them.”
Mr Van der Lely said he has updated nine out of the 23 mobile homes on the site since he began the operation.
A spokesperson for Forest of Dean District Council, said: “These mobile homes have been sited without permission.
“This is not acceptable and there are no exceptional planning circumstances to merit their retention on the site.
“Action has been commenced to remedy the breach of planning control.
“The enforcement notice served for the removal of the dwellings has effectively been suspended whilst an appeal is considered.
“Within the enforcement notice the council has stated a period of time in which the caravans should be removed. During the appeal process the inspector will consider whether that length of time is sufficient.
“If the enforcement notice is upheld and the caravans are required to be removed the council will offer appropriate assistance to the residents on their housing options.”