The council’s planning enforcement team have been accused of failing to bring enforcement action against residents on the Buckles Lane traveller site in South Ockendon.

Conservative Councillor Andrew Jefferies, who is ward councillor for South Ockendon, warned that senior council officers would be “culpable” if anyone were to be harmed at the site which has been labelled one of the biggest traveller sites in Europe.

He explained that “well documented and widespread violation of planning controls have reached unprecedented levels” and Thurrock Council must meet its responsibilities and commence enforcement action.

“Buckles Lane has long been home to a number of showmen families who are very much part of the community,” he said.

“But over some years we have seen other individuals illegally develop whole swathes of greenbelt either side of Buckles Lane, to the point where there is now a sprawling mass of unlawful sites. In many cases these have been filled to capacity with mobile homes which are then let for commercial gain.

“All of this has been exacerbated by Thurrock Council’s long running failure to uphold the law, which has simply sent a message to those acting unlawfully that they can act with impunity.”

He went on to warn that there is a “genuine fear” that a serious incident could occur and “potential for the loss of life”.

Should that happen, senior officers would be to blame, he added.

Council leader, Rob Gledhill, defended the strong words used by the councillor and set out to reassure residents action will be taken.

He said: “Councillor Jefferies brought the fact that he had been made aware there were plans to bring even more caravans on to the Buckles Lane site to me on Friday morning and my very next call was to the chief executive to make sure the council was geared up to take preventative action, something she confirmed would be done.

“I can assure Ockendon residents that no matter how difficult the conversation Thurrock Conservatives will happily tackle it.”

A spokesperson for Thurrock Council said: “Forty-five Planning Contravention Notices have been served on landowners to help the council better understand the make-up of the site and identify current and future housing needs of the travelling show people living there.

“The intelligence gathered through these notices has been used to obtain a high court injunction which prevents any additional mobile homes or structures, containers, vehicles or building materials being brought onto the site and stops any further development being carried out. This injunction was first granted in June 2018 and extended in April this year. It is still in force.

“Regular site visits take place at Buckles Lane, including drone flights, to monitor any development taking place.”