New age travellers living beside Sheffield's old Ski Village plan to fight legal bid to remove them
New age travellers living beside Sheffield's old Ski Village face a legal battle to remain there, despite a petition signed by nearly 1,300 people.
Sheffield Council is pushing ahead with efforts to remove travellers who are camped below the disused ski slopes at Parkwood Springs.
Although the land they are occupying is outside the former Ski Village site, the council claims it is needed so the ski centre can be revived as part of a wider leisure complex.
Without that council-owned land, it says potential investors told it from the outset that any redevelopment would not be viable.
However, travellers claim the site off Pickering Road, beside an industrial district, has been occupied for around 13 years and people living there have helped look after the area during that time, keeping down fly-tipping and crime.
They say they support the reopening of the Ski Village, which has been closed since burning down around five years ago, but do not believe they need to be evicted for that to happen.
An online petition calling for them to be allowed to remain has attracted more than 1,280 signatures.
The council claims travellers were evicted from the site in 2006, at which point it believed the area had been cleared, but it was informed around seven years ago that the land was again occupied.
It estimates there are up to 70 caravans, trailers and other vehicles on the land, but one traveller told The Star only around 30 people are living there.
The council decided in 2015 to reclaim the land and informed occupants in March to start looking for somewhere else to live.
It has now applied for a court date to make its case for possession of the land, which it expects to be able to do within the next four to six weeks.
James Richards, the council's public protection manager, said: "This is the lifestyle choice they've made but ultimately we need to claim back our land.
"From the outset, we've tried to be as fair as possible to the people living there.
"But we need the land as part of our master plan, and we need to treat everybody in Sheffield equally, so we can't just give away council-owned land because someone wants to occupy it."
He added that the council had offered to help people find alternative accommodation, especially those who have young children, work locally or have other ties to the area.
When The Star visited the site this week, many of the travellers were unwilling to speak to us.
However, one man who would only give his name as Chris said he believed the Ski Village could be revived without travellers having to move.
The 48-year-old landscape gardener said he has two teenage children who are third generation travellers and although he had only been living at the site for seven years he knew others who had been there for at least 12 years.
"We have guys here who work at the local businesses. The businesses are happy with us because we keep down fly-tipping," he added.
"If they don't want us to be seen from the new development, we can move around the corner. We can help them if they will help us, but at the end of the day we all need somewhere to live.
"I think everyone here is planning to stay and fight the council's efforts to remove us."
Another man, a labourer who refused to be named, said he had only been there for five months, having previously lived in a ninth-storey council flat.
"I like the space and the nature here. This lifestyle doesn't suit everyone but for some people this is an alternative to the unfair society in which everybody's getting exploited," he added.
The council is expected to reveal its preferred developer for the site imminently, having received the final bids from shortlisted parties.