TRAVELLERS who moved onto a patch of land three years ago are making a last-ditch bid to stay – despite being ordered to leave on several occasions.
A planning appeal inquiry began at Newent Community Centre yesterday in which the travellers appealed against a decision to evict them from Southend Lane in the town.
The inquiry, which will last for six days, is dealing with two appeals; one against an enforcement notice served by Forest of Dean District Council, and one against the rejection of plans to build a 13-pitch caravan site on the land.
More than 50 people were at the community centre on the first day of the inquiry to hear the opening comments and the impact on biodiversity and ecology at the site.
Planning consultant Peter Tufnell read a statement on behalf of campaign group Newent RAID (Residents Against Inappropriate Development).
He said: "Before the Whitsun weekend invasion it was a quiet, rural area. There was little traffic, it was popular with walkers, there were wildflowers.
"Following the development, there was an immediate rise in the levels of traffic, fewer walkers use the area, residents have reported noise, horses kept there have escaped, there have been two verbal threats and the postman was physically intimidated.
"There appears to be a lack of fairness. The settled community can't avoid the system like the travellers appear to.
"Rights come with responsibility and the onus is on the appellant to provide evidence."
Michael Rudd is the barrister representing the travellers, who have set up more than a dozen plots at the site.
He said: "All the site occupants have a need for is a permanent base. The site is 34 metres from the nearest dwelling and there is no evidence of any impact. The evidence from the council is woefully inaccurate."
Meanwhile, barrister Sarah Clover is representing council.
She said: "The visual impact now is worse than it was in 2010 because of the increased development."
The travellers moved on to the site in May 2009, when they laid tarmac, and installed toilets.
Since then, there have been numerous applications and appeals in what has become a long-running saga.
One concern dealt with on the first day was the issue surrounding the presence of great crested newts on the site in question.
However, Dr Stephanie Ray told the hearing: "It is not a hugely important area for the great crested newt. All data suggests the ponds on site are not suitable for the rare newt."