AN 'unprecedented' number of gypsies and travellers camped in Gargrave on their way to Appleby Fair, leaving residents feeling anxious and frightened to leave their homes, heard a stormy meeting of the parish council.

Around 50 residents attended the monthly meeting of the council which moved to the main room of the village hall to cope with expected high numbers following the influx of travellers and gypsies with more than 60 vehicles stopping off in the village over the bank holiday weekend.

With some fair goers expected back in Gargrave after the annual event  finishes on Wednesday next week, (June 12) the parish council has moved to restrict where they can camp by spending around £800 on concrete barriers.

Residents at Wednesday's meeting talked about generators running all night, threatening behaviour, horses being ridden down narrow alleys and also groups of youths smoking drugs.

There was also talk of thefts, an incident in the village's Co-op, damage to the public toilets and trees, and a lot of cleaning up to do after they had moved on, including the clearing of dead rabbits and human faeces on the village greens.

Councillor Gregory Butt, who only took over as parish council chair last month after Stephen Coetzer stepped down due to work commitments, told the meeting how what the village experienced this year would not be repeated, although they could not stop the gypsies and travellers from stopping off," he said. 

"There can be no doubt that the recent annual migration of gypsy and travellers to Appleby Fair and their stopover in Gargrave caused levels of anxiety for residents. The influx of so many people, vehicles and animals – so many horses – stretched the goodwill that may have existed beforehand. This is, I believe, because of the sheer numbers, which were unexpected.

"We witnessed upwards of 60 vehicles around the greens including carloads of people arriving on the Saturday, just for the night - something we haven’t experienced before, which added to the feeling of anxiety and unease. And these numbers had a far greater impact on the village than almost anyone could remember. It created an obvious and visceral anxiety. Some villagers felt unsafe - their normal routines and lives were affected.

"The numbers severely tested the infrastructure and damaged the fabric of the village. The village greens took a hammering, the toilets – let’s remember run by volunteers and funded by donation – and specifically kept open, were, to put it mildly, abused."

Cllr Butt, an ex-soldier, said the council would work on a 'proper strategy' with North Yorkshire Council that would involve other agencies, including the police.

"I am new to this parish council and brand new as the chairman – I was a week into the role when the first travellers arrived. The scenes we witnessed this year will not be repeated – and I mean it," he said.

"North Yorkshire Council needs to take ownership of this, and my main role will be in ensuring this happens," he said.

The 'plan for Gargrave' would be led by the existing gypsy and traveller working group, made up of councillors and residents, and will, he said, include the physical protection of the village greens and the 'South Street triangle' with a mixture of permanent and temporary barriers.

The visitors would also be managed through legal means and notices, police and councillor presence would be co-ordinated, and CCTV could be used. Residents would be told of the plan in the spring, including a possible leaflet drop.

Sergeant Paul Evans, of Craven Neighbourhood policing team, told the meeting residents needed to phone in their complaints, telling the meeting just eight had been recorded over the weekend.

Numbers this year had been unprecedented he said and promised that there would be a police presence in the village when the gypsies and travellers stopped off on their way home.

He told the Craven Herald: "The main thing for me is we are trying to coordinate a multi-agency response that will accommodate all parties. The parish council is doing what they can but do need support from everyone, the police, North Yorkshire Council and the community.

"The main point is for the community to report issues as and when they arise as we can only respond with the correct resources when we know it happening.

"There will be a presence in Gargrave next week and I am in the process of sorting that out."