Traveller camp on Penwortham Holme sees final junior football matches cancelled

Posted on - 25th May, 2023 - 12:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Politics, Preston News, South Ribble News, Sport
Traveller group on Penwortham Holme playing field Pic: BBC LDRS

More than a thousand young footballers will miss out on their final matches of the season after travellers pitched up on the site in South Ribble where the games were to be played.

All of the fixtures scheduled to take place this Saturday in the Mid Lancs Colts Junior Football League (MLCJFL) have been cancelled in the wake of an incursion into the playing fields at Penwortham Holme.

Around a dozen caravans arrived at the plot – which is bounded by Liverpool Road and Leyland Road – on Tuesday afternoon. A court summons has already been issued ordering those occupying the South Ribble Borough Council-run facility to move on.

Read more: Vinro in Penwortham closes its doors after a year

The location has been protected by a maximum height barrier and bollards installed after more than £5,000 worth of damage was done when travellers previously took over the site back in September 2017.

However, pictures show one of the bollards on the lane leading to the fields having been removed and the height-restriction gate – designed to prevent large vehicles passing through it – wide open.

The barrier had been removed Pic: BBC LDRS

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that Lancashire County Council is currently using an area beyond the barrier as a compound during the ongoing works to upgrade the junction of Liverpool Road, Broadgate, Fishergate Hill and Strand Road. But the authority has dismissed social media speculation that its workers had failed to put the barrier back in place after opening it for access.

Penwortham Holme would have been a flurry of footballing activity on Saturday morning, with under-8s and under-7s teams playing across 18 pitches and three different kick-off times.

The 2017 incident led to months of disruption to junior fixtures because of the degree of damage caused to the playing surfaces and changing rooms – with permanent replacements for the latter still not in place six years later. Young players currently have to get ready in temporary buildings.

Read more: Penwortham Business Network’s community clean-up is a success

Ian Christopher, MLCJFL league secretary, told the LDRS that he hopes those who have gained access to the plot will be more considerate this time.

“They appear to have parked around the outside of the pitches on this occasion, to be fair. But I just hope they don’t do as much damage.

“It’s a shame that so many children will miss out on a week’s football. Some teams might be able to rearrange, but as a league, we have to close by the end of May,” Ian said.

The MLCJFL is a non-competitive league, so there are no end-of-season standings hinging on the now cancelled matches.

County Cllr David Howarth, who represents the Penwortham West division in which Penworthan Holme sits, said that it was “extremely disappointing” that the land had once again been subject to unauthorised use.

“Fortunately, we’re now in a dry spell, so vehicle movements on those fields aren’t going to gouge up all the pitches like they did [in 2017] – you would hope.

“But the people I really feel sorry for are the kids. On a Saturday morning, those fields are absolutely packed with football players.

“Council taxpayers will also be picking up the bill again – but if the cause is beyond South Ribble’s control, then there’s not a great deal we can do about it,” County Cllr Howarth added.

Read more: Penwortham’s Birch Avenue play area back open after £140k revamp

South Ribble Borough Council leader Paul Foster said, “We are aware of the encampment at Penwortham Holme and are now taking the necessary steps for the encampment’s removal.

“Our officers attended the site to provide an assessment and provided supplies for site cleansing. Legal proceedings are now in place for their removal and a court summons has been successfully served to the site.

“Rest assured that we are working to resolve this matter as quickly as possible and are investigating how the travellers were able to gain access to the site.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Friends, Families and Travellers, a charity that works to end racism and discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, highlighted the “chronic shortage of safe stopping places for travelling communities [that] means over 3,000 families often have nowhere to stop and can’t rest without fear of retribution”.

“This makes accessing basic needs like sanitation, education, and healthcare more difficult, and ultimately doesn’t benefit anyone.

“Local and national government have a duty to provide safe stopping places so that Gypsy and Traveller people can live in a way that honours their histories and traditions, without sacrificing peace of mind and quality of life.”

A report commissioned last year by South Ribble, Preston and Chorley councils recommended that the neighbouring authorities should “consider the options” available to provide sites for travellers “passing through Central Lancashire”.

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