A FORMER resident of the borough at the centre of a long-running dispute over a family of travellers has hit out at the planning system.
Donald Cross bought a house at Aspull Common in Leigh because it had a separate bungalow in the back garden which made it an ideal place to look after his father-in-law who was suffering from Alzheimer’s.
However, just days after moving into the house near Pennington Flash Country Park travellers placed several caravans nearby at The Stables and began carrying out work including putting up fences and laying down hardstanding.
The group then applied for planning permission from Wigan Council which, to Mr Cross’s fury, was granted despite the land’s being green belt.
Mr Cross, who now lives in the US with his wife and stepson, says the ordeal has left them hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket as the proximity of the travellers’ site means the house is unsellable.
He says the location’s desirability has been further blighted as some of the family were featured in Channel 4’s infamous series of documentaries on the travelling community.
We should never have been put in this situation. The whole thing has just been a disasterDonald Cross
The 45-year-old said: “I think it is totally wrong that I cannot sell my house because of so-called special circumstances that allowed the application to be successful.
“To this day we as a family feel unjustly treated by the local authority and I am amazed at the stance taken by Wigan Council.
“This would never happen in America under any circumstances. They just wouldn’t allow it. We invested all our money into it and two weeks later the value dropped considerably. I think it’s a disgrace that Wigan Council don’t take values of local properties into consideration.
“We wanted a location with peace and quiet for my father-in-law to walk near the Flash under supervision, and we couldn’t do that with caravans coming and going all the time.
“They never physically hurt us but we always felt uncomfortable. We could hear a lot of shouting and screaming.
“They were also filmed by Channel 4 and the crew flew in using a helicopter. There was fighting and all sorts and we were just sitting there in shock.”
In addition to the cost of buying the house Mr Cross spent around £150,000 carrying out extensive renovation work including fitting new flooring and kitchens. He says he now wants to see planning law changes following his bitter experience.
He says he has effectively abandoned hope of selling the property, which was valued at £495,000 around five years ago.
He said: “I just don’t think they should be allowed to do this in residential areas on green belt land.
“I have no objections if they were building a house but living in caravans has caused a lot of problems for us and has put everyone off the house. We’ve worked hard all our lives and invested in the property.
“We should never have been put in this situation. The whole thing has just been a disaster.”
Wigan Council said permission for three caravans and a static mobile home was refused in 2005 but then allowed for two years on appeal.
The applicant then sought permission to have the temporary restriction removed, which was successful as the council found no evidence living conditions on the site could not be made acceptable.
An application for another caravan and a toilet block was approved in 2008.