Site fears for Great Dorset Steam Fair
THE prospect of the Great Dorset Steam Fair going ahead without an official site for the many hundreds of travellers who converge on the area, loomed this week.
A plan for a site north of Tarrant Hinton, which was thought to be a solution, fell into uncertainty through the withdrawal of a footpath facility considered critical to safety.
The application for the site off the A354 is due to go before county council planners next month.
But support from Tarrant Hinton Parish Council and other parishes was withdrawn at a liaison committee meeting on Tuesday.
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They heard that site users would be expected to walk on the verge of the main road to get to the steam fair itself – rather than a path through farm land.
Mike Nathan, chairman of Tarrant Hinton Parish Council, which has for the last three years accepted a site in its parish off Valley Road, said: "We found out only on Monday that the access for the travellers to the steam fair is now going to be along the main road on the A354.
"We had been promised that it would be along a concrete path at the rear of the camp site and had supported the application on this basis. We have been led up the garden path."
He said the plan as now presented would mean travellers walking through the centre of the village along a verge which was dangerous, and particularly so late at night for those the worse for drink.
He said: "If Tarrant Monkton thought it had problems with the Valley Road site, I hate to think what we potentially might get."
He said by not telling the parish council he was withdrawing permission for the farm path to be used, land owner Robin Hooper had not been open.
He was also scathing of the steam fair management and district and county councils for not advising of the change.
Mr Nathan's concerns about road safety, and about the failure of the authorities to communicate the change in the plans, were echoed by representatives of a number of parish councils who had been authorised by their members to support the application for the new site on the basis of the farm track being available.
Some said they would have to refer back and some that they now objected to the application.
Dorset County Council leader Angus Campbell said: "What really concerns me is whether there will be a site this year, because it is not clear that this new site is going to get planning permission."
It was agreed that Mr Campbell, representative on the county council for the area, and Joyce Guest, general manager at North Dorset District Council, would try to persuade Mr Hooper to reverse his decision.
They said that efforts would also be made to ensure that provision for pedestrians, if it was needed on the A354, would be adequately safe.
Mr Nathan said: "Once again we are in a position of not knowing where the site will be and the steam fair opening on August 31."
A site has been provided jointly by the county council and steam fair in association with the district council and Dorset Police in previous years to ensure that unauthorised traveller encampments set up around the time of the steam fair can be moved on.
In previous years it has proved successful, preventing incursions which in the past have occurred in Blandford and other areas, although objections to the site have been received from many local residents.
Last year an unauthorised encampment before the opening of the official site at Kingston Lacy caused considerable damage.
Dave Ayre, for Dorset County Council, said this year it was intended to open the official site a week before the steam fair started. Security would be available before that as the site was being prepared.