Residents have reacted furiously after a large group of travellers descended on the car park of a popular community venue.
Around 20 caravans broke the locks on the gate and parked up outside The Rose Centre in Lowton over the Easter weekend, forcing several events to be cancelled.
The centre’s management is going through the legal process of getting the travellers evicted, with a court date expected to be set next week for a hearing to remove them from the land.
However, residents’ groups and local councillors have said the debacle shows urgent changes to the law at national level are required to prevent travellers trespassing on private land.
A spokesman for the Lowton East Neighbourhood Development Forum (Lendf) said the group is fearing for an event planned to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday and also slammed the state the car park is being left in.
He said: “What the residents are having to put up with is unbelievable. The whole site is just an awful mess, it’s in a terrible state.
“We’ve got a massive celebration planned with all the tickets sold and 250 people ready to attend, and as it stands we’ll have to cancel because there’s nowhere to park.
“We don’t want to criticise the council or the police, we just need help to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The travellers’ presence has caused extensive disruption, with junior football sessions on the civic fields having to be cancelled and The Rose Centre calling off its midweek dance classes.
The management team also confirmed the venue had to remain shut over the weekend.
Wigan Council leader of the opposition Coun James Grundy, who represents Lowton East ward, said the incident shows councils and police do not have enough powers to tackle travellers and said practical measures were being taken to ensure The Rose Centre will not be affected again.
Coun Grundy said: “Obviously residents are absolutely furious about this. The football team doesn’t feel secure using the fields and people can’t use the room, which is of tremendous concern.
“We will try to get a similar barrier to the one at Pennington Flash, which seems to have been effective, fitted at The Rose Centre to prevent this reoccurring in the future.
Wigan Council has also responded to the latest problem, saying it is making changes to ensure travellers cannot linger on public or local authority sites.
Karl Battersby, Wigan Council’s director of economy and environment, said: “We are developing a new council policy which will enable us to remove travellers from our land much more quickly.”
Coun Grundy is standing in the upcoming local election. A full list of candidates will be released later this week.