25 June 2005 07:47
A Norfolk community won a major planning victory when an inspector decided that gipsies could not stay on land close to their homes even though they owned it. But with two communities completely divided, there was still a muted response.
On the face of it, they won what may come to be seen as a major victory -but getting anyone in Denton to talk about successfully challenging the gipsy settlement in their midst proved almost impossible.
It is two years since a gipsy family, long associated with north Suffolk, settled at the South Norfolk village. Residents have fought to have them moved on - firstly challenging their arrival and then arguing that the setting-up of a caravan site was against planning rules.
The planning inspector found against the gipsies, who now have a November deadline to leave the village of 352 people that appears in fear of reprisals.
Most people questioned about how they feel now the case has been won offer a similar response: "I do have an opinion, but I would really rather not say anything." Even those with no objection to the site refused to comment.
The well-organised, clean and tidy site on two water meadows, off Middle Road in the village, gives the impression of being totally inoffensive.
But an EDP reporter and photographer, asking if those living on the site wanted to comment on the planning decision, found themselves on the receiving end of aggressive language and threats. They were told to get off the site immediately or their cars and a camera would be "smashed up".
When someone from the village did eventually respond, Clare Valori said the feelings of Middle Road residents were "very low key". "As a group, we are very pleased that the appeal has been dismissed on planning grounds and really would like to stress that there is no personal animosity between us and the occupants," she said. "And we would like to keep it that way for the time that they are still here."
Another resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said no one would be sorry to see the group go. "No one wants this in their own back yard," he said. "The place will be a lot better off once they have gone, but no one will ever admit to saying so."
But while other communities in the region might be hoping this decision will prove a turning point in the way travellers are dealt with, Jon Blunkell, travellers' liaison officer for Norfolk County Council, said he did not expect it to make a big difference.
"In discussions with my colleagues, what is being said is that you can't now expect a similar case to necessarily go the same way," he said.
Mr Blunkell said he did not believe the Denton situation would lead to fewer planning applications being made retrospectively. "Every case is still going to be considered on its own merits," he said.
It seems the clash of cultures seen in Denton is likely to recur wherever gipsies settle for the time being.
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I am having a hard time, generally, to believe anything negative that this newspaper reports as regards to the Romani in that area seeing their general anti-Gypsy bias that they espouse.