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Officers swoop on The Orchard traveller site in Rainham to evict families

Travellers fear they will end up with nowhere to go after enforcement officers began tearing down the site where they live.

The officers sent by Medway Council arrived at the land off Lower Rainham Road in Rainham at 7am yesterday along with police.

The group say they had no notice the action was being taken that day to leave the site

Families living in static homes at The Orchard were woken by the sound of fences being taken down. They say they were given no notice the action was being taken that day.

Traveller James Golby said: "We had women and children crying. We were woken up at 7am. We had no notice, they just arrived and started smashing fences up. My four-year-old was hiding under her pillow."

There are seven plots of land at the site, each individually owned, with static caravans and wooden 'day houses' as well as gardens and play areas for children, horses stables and a paddock. But the families do not have permission to live there.

Traveller James Golby outside his home
Traveller James Golby outside his home

The travellers bought the land in 2020 and say they applied for planning permission to live there, but the application wasn't accepted by Medway Council.

After buying the land, the families discovered there was a previous enforcement notice issued in 2017, preventing anyone from living there. But they say they knew nothing about it until months after moving in.

One woman, who did not want to be named, said: "When we bought the land, nothing came up on the land searches that there was an enforcement notice. There is nothing on the land registry.

The front gate and fencing were taken down
The front gate and fencing were taken down

"Now we are going to be homeless. My son is in Year 1 at Riverside school, he is settled there. If we have to leave I don't know where we are going to end up.

"They will take down my day house and take away my mobile home if I don't move it.

"We had no warning, they didn't tell us a date they would be coming down here. At least if we had been given that, we could have had some sort of say. We could have had the paperwork ready to go to court."

She added: "We've had a lot of support from the local community."

One local woman posted online: "Why can’t they stay they are doing no harm where they are I live just down the road and can see no reason why they can’t make their permanent home there it’s their land they should be able to build what they want on it."

Mr Golby, 38, said: "We were told to seek legal advice so we did, we have a solicitor and a planning agent.

The site is home to seven static homes with gardens and play areas
The site is home to seven static homes with gardens and play areas

"We were trying to get the council to accept the (planning) application. We thought we had more time.

"We knew there was a chance it (the application) would get turned down, but we haven't been given a chance.

"They haven't even considered it, they chucked it straight out. The council don't want to talk to us."

The dad-of-five added: "I know there are some bad members of the travelling community, just like you get in any community. But we are just families trying to get on with our lives.

"Our kids go to local schools. We can't live at the side of the road any more, that way of life has gone."

Yesterday afternoon, enforcement officers and police remained at the site, but nothing further had been removed from the land. A flat bed lorry was waiting outside along with a wide load escort vehicle.

A flat bed lorry waits outside the site
A flat bed lorry waits outside the site

The families have taken legal advice and hope to stop the eviction.

A spokesman for Medway Council said: "Unfortunately, the occupants do not have planning permission to live on this site. We served an enforcement notice in 2017 which prevented residential occupation of this agricultural field.

“The occupants moved onto the site after the enforcement notice came into effect. We have provided them with copies of the enforcement notice and, over the last 12 months, have advised them of the consequences of occupying the site with the notice in effect.

"Several letters were hand delivered to the occupants warning them that enforcement action would be taken if they didn’t comply with the notice.”

A spokesman for Kent Police confirmed officers were assisting at the scene.

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