Morecambe traveller site could be taken on by Lancaster City Council

The Mellishaw Park site is one of three which Lancashire County Council is looking to offload
The Mellishaw Park site is one of three which Lancashire County Council is looking to offload

Control of a traveller site in Morecambe could be transferred to Lancaster City Council after Lancashire County Council approved a plan to sell off the land on which it stands.

A meeting of the county council's cabinet heard that the authority will not be handing the Mellishaw Park site to the highest bidder - a commitment which could pave the way for the city council to follow through on an expression of interest which it has lodged in acquiring the plot.

County leader Geoff Driver told members that he would "welcome" such a move, although stressed that nothing had yet been agreed between the two councils. He was speaking after concerns were raised that a condition to be imposed on any new owner requiring them to retain the site for traveller use would not necessarily safeguard existing residents.

Labour opposition group leader on the county council, Azhar Ali, said pitches which were put on the market by councils were often bought by other travellers.

"You find that some of those who have been there a long time tend to be moved on to be replaced by others and I'm concerned about the welfare of the people already on [that site].

“It’s important that nobody is evicted, as these are [people’s] homes – in some cases for all of their lives,” County Cllr Ali added.

County Cllr Driver said that he was happy to clarify the “understandable” fear amongst residents that the land would be sold to whoever was willing to pay the highest price.

“That will not happen – we are not interested in a capital receipt, because the value if you were putting a condition on to state that they would always be traveller sites is not going to be very high anyway.

“We will make sure the residents of all three sites are involved fully in the way that we move forward,” County Cllr Driver added.

In a statement after the meeting, Cllr Caroline Jackson, cabinet member for housing on Lancaster City Council, said the authority is "very concerned for the future of our residents who live on the Mellishaw site".

"We are keen to work with the county council to explore the potential of taking responsibility for the site and managing it directly or with a suitable partner," Cllr Jackson added.

In county council areas like Lancashire, it is second-tier district authorities which are obliged to assess the needs of the gypsy and traveller community and ensure that these are reflected in local development plans for their areas. The county council has no statutory obligation to provide sites.