Fears have been expressed if large numbers of gypsies and travellers set up camp along the busy A685 road between Kirkby Stephen and Brough in the lead-up to this year’s Appleby Horse Fair.
The event has been moved from its traditional June date to August 12 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Phil Dew, an Eden and county councillor for Kirkby Stephen, said: “This is going to be during the very busy tourist season when the A685 will be jam-packed with traffic.
“No-one in their right mind would dream up a policy where you were tolerating encampments along a busy trunk road like the A685.
“It’s only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed on that road.
He told a meeting of Kirkby Stephen Town Council that Eden Council should be far more proactive in establishing alternative sites, which would be more suitable, even though it doesn’t have a statutory obligation to do so.
It appears that an area known as Water Yat Bottom, near Kirkby Stephen, which is usually used by the gypsy and traveller community as a place for temporary encampments ahead of the opening of Fair Hill at Appleby, is in doubt this year as the new owner of the land has prevented access to at least two thirds of the area.
“The fear is that there will be displacement of gypsy traveller people and the only other alternative at the moment is either Cote Moor, which won’t go down at all well with the businesses that operate on the moor, or the A685, which is wholly and completely unsatisfactory,” said Mr Dew.
He said that Eden Council had a “moral responsibility” to anticipate the need for places for the early arrivals attending the fair.
Paul Richardson, chairman of Kirkby Stephen Town Council, said: “With the increased holiday traffic and if the gypsy travellers are displaced and there is more of them on the A685 and there is more holiday traffic I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen.“
I don’t know what the police can do other than not let people park along there — even a reduced speed limit won’t stop little children running out or horses running out.”
Amanda McKirdy, Cumbria police’s community sergeant for Appleby and Kirkby Stephen rural areas, said: “The A685 is a pinch point, with fast flowing traffic.
“It’s holiday time — it’s a good cut across — and with the anticipated road works on the A66 it might be that there is additional traffic flow on that road.
“We are in regular meetings with highways. We are aware of this issue and will be looking to have posts in place and having the same police presence. We appreciate the poles don’t necessarily stop people parking — it’s the police presence that does — so we will continue to maintain that.”
Sergt McKirdy, who has been based in Eden since 2013, said this will be her 10th Appleby Horse Fair.
“The plan will be to go on the 2019 model in terms of staffing and how the footprint is going to look on the encampment patrols leading up to the fair.
“I think we can all agree it is going to be a different fair and there are certainly going to be challenges this time around,” she added.
Les Clark, chairman of the Appleby horse fair multi-agency strategic co-ordinating group, which helps oversee the smooth running of the fair, said: “The key role of the group to is to ensure the horse fair is as safe and enjoyable as possible for all parties.
“Every year, there is a significant amount of effort that goes into identifying appropriate stopping places and liaising with landowners – despite there being no statutory obligation to do so.
“We’re always looking to identify workable stopping places, including for this year, and we’d encourage any landowners who are interested to get in touch.
“There are a number of sites available for visitors and the gypsy and traveller community, to stay with their caravans if they wish to do so.
“There are over 100 caravan and camping sites in Eden that are welcoming visitors.
“Those coming to the fair are reminded that the gathering has a set a date.
“We urge visitors and the gypsy and traveller community not to arrive early, as there may be limited transit sites and facilities this year due to the COVID pandemic and it’s dependent on the government guidance and legislation applicable at the time.”