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Land transfer is back on track as family leaves

By Western Gazette - Crewkerne  |  Posted: September 27, 2012

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A gift of land to a trio of villages near Crewkerne is back on course after a four-year legal battle to evict a family living on it.

Somerset County Council plans to proceed with the transfer of a wooded beauty spot at Eggwood Hill, Lopen, after travellers left the site last week.

The transfer means Merriott, Hinton St George and Lopen parish councils will own the land which straddles their boundaries.

Previously a roadside highways chippings store, the land is set aside as an area for public exercise and relaxation.

County councillor David Huxtable said: “I’m pleased that the residents have the uninhibited use of Eggwood Hill again, and that we can resume the process of transferring the land to the three parish councils.

“The county council has been frustrated that the legal process of getting our land back has taken so long, so it is good that we can now make progress with transferring the land for the local residents to enjoy.”

A court had ordered a family of eight to move off the land by September 18. This week the county council said the family had met the deadline for moving on and a £1,800 clean-up operation was completed by contractors over the weekend. The site has now been permanently secured.

Much of what was left behind had been burnt, including a static caravan, but gas cylinders and a fridge were also found at the site, the council said.

The cleaning bill is on top of more than £45,000 in legal expenses and other associated costs paid by the council in taking the occupying family to court and securing eviction after they moved on to the land in May 2008.

Lopen residents have said they felt the beauty spot became a “no-go area” for them in recent years.

In recent months, residents of all three villages said they felt the county council had forgotten about the issue and that they were being ignored.

But in previous interviews with the Western Gazette, traveller mum Emma Hughes said her family had been trying to find somewhere else to go and just want to be treated fairly while they waited for a new home.

In an interview in March she said: “We are trying to move on. We are trying to do things the right way, we know we can’t stay on this site forever but at the moment we have nowhere else to go.

“I wonder how other people would feel in our situation?

“We don’t have it easy here. We have no running water, we have to fill up a bowser once a fortnight and no electricity except for a generator. Living here is probably costing us more than people pay for council tax.”

MP David Laws waded into the debate back in April.

He said: “I’m very well aware of the frustration of local residents about how long it is taking the county council to sort this matter out.”

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