Leek protesters told to leave roundabout by judge
PROTESTERS have been ordered to leave a roundabout where they have been camping for two weeks.
A judge has awarded possession of the floral island in Leek to Staffordshire County Council, which claimed the campaigners were trespassing.
They had set up camp on the roundabout to halt a controversial scheme to replace it with traffic lights.
But they now have until 9am on Thursday to leave, following the ruling at Stoke-on-Trent County Court.
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The campaigners claimed the land was held by Leek Town Lands Trust on behalf of the people of Leek, making their occupation lawful. But senior project engineer Michael Smith told the court that local authorities had been maintaining the roundabout since at least 1974.
This meant it was a 'highway maintainable at public expense' and therefore owned by the county council.
Judge Peter Rank said: "I am satisfied the county council is the legal owner of the roundabout. I could reach no other decision on the evidence before me, particularly the evidence this roundabout has had a history of maintenance since 1974.
"I'm aware there are many people who are against this development. But these issues are beyond the remit of the court."
The roadworks are part of a £1 million overhaul linked to the new Sainsbury's supermarket in Macclesfield Road.
Protesters say the changes will cause irreparable damage to Leek's character, as well as causing traffic and road safety problems. Almost 11,000 people have signed a petition against the proposals.
Campaign leader Sarah Gayton said the group would now leave the roundabout peacefully, but insisted that their fight would go on.
The 51-year-old, of Queen Street, Leek, said: "We may have lost this legal battle, but there are still massive legal questions to be answered. This is an illegal development. It is in breach of the Equality Act because the safety of disabled people cannot be guaranteed at the crossings.
"They've also failed to carry out a heritage impact assessment. If they'd done that to begin with we wouldn't even be here."
Neal Podmore, Staffordshire County Councillor for Leek South, welcomed the court's ruling.
He said: "This is good news for Leek and means we can get on with a major investment in the town that is all about creating more jobs and prosperity for local people.
"Going to court was absolutely the last thing we wanted to do, but we had to act in the interests of traders and residents, including a number who had complained about the impact the protest was having."