A WAR of words has erupted over an illegal traveller site amid claims council chiefs failed to use powers that could have stopped the unauthorised development in its tracks.

Basildon Tory councillor Malcolm Buckley warned the borough could be saddled with another illegal settlement for years after neighbouring Thurrock Council failed to issue a stop notice which would have made the continued development a criminal offence.

The site, next to Willow Cottage in Southend Road, off Five Bells roundabout in Vange, is just over the border of the two boroughs, meaning Thurrock Council is responsible for enforcing planning.

The apparent lack of action from Thurrock has allowed the families time to submit a planning application for a fully-fledged caravan site, which will now have to be considered before any legal action can begin.

There are fears among residents and local politicians it could be expanded in the meantime.

Basildon Tory councillor Malcolm Buckley, who was at the forefront of planning the multi-million eviction of Dale Farm in Crays Hill, said: “They should have learnt the lesson from Dale Farm which grew when Labour controlled Basildon Council as they were too slow to respond.

It appears Thurrock is now mimicking that action of ten years ago by the Basildon Labour Party.

They should have grasped the fact that if you don’t act early it will be a much more expensive and lengthy battle to achieve compliance.”

The site was developed illegally over the Easter bank holiday weekend. No action happened in the first two weeks of the site due a row between Thurrock Council and Essex County Council’s traveller unit over who was responsible.

It was eventually pushed back to Thurrock as the travellers own the land and the traveller unit deals with incursions on private land. Although up to 12 caravans have been parked on the site, the application through planning agent Third Dimension based in Southend, is for four pitches. The travellers want space for a mobile home, separate touring caravan, utility block and vehicles on each pitch.

They also want a stables area within the site for horses. Conservative Homesteads councillor James Halden said: “The whole thing is unacceptable.

Legally, this is the right thing to do now but the council should have acted much earlier, it should never have got to this stage. This is going to take a while; it’s got to go to committee and then they will have the right to appeal.”

A Thurrock Council spokesman said: “The spokesman added: "The new temporary stop notice to prohibit residential occupation of a caravan lasts for 28 days, after which the breach can resume.

This was not considered a long-term solution to permanently resolve this breach of planning control and was not thought to be effective in this instance."