FEARS have been raised about the length of time it is taking to decide whether travellers, who set up an illegal site in Thundersley, can stay.

Residents are still waiting to hear whether a three-pitch site on Janda Fields, off Fane Road, will be approved or scrapped.

Miles and Michael McCarthy set up the site without planning permission, but a decision on whether they can stay has still not been made.

Communities and Local Government secretary, Eric Pickles, was expected to make the decision, but it is now being made by someone else in his department.

Bill Dick, Tory borough councillor for St Peter’s ward, said: “This is beyond a joke.

“It’s not like they have had this appeal for a week, it’s been going on months.

“I am not amused. One minute Eric Pickles is making the decision the next he is not.

“They are treating people like idiots and it’s getting like Basildon’s Dale Farm. If the appeal goes against the travellers they will appeal again and it could take years.”

The McCarthys applied retrospectively to Castle Point Council, but that was refused, so they appealed to Mr Pickles in May last year.

He was supposed to make a decision by October 28 last year, but still nothing has been decided and Mr Pickles has said it won’t be him who decides whether the appeal is granted.

Mr Pickles, Tory MP for Brentwood and Ongar, said: “I don’t deal with any planning law in Essex as I am a proprietor.”

When questioned on his stance about building on greenbelt, he added: “There has to be exceptional reasons to build on greenbelt.

We get appeals coming in on a regular basis to build on greenbelt and 99 times out of 100 they are chucked out.”

During a public inquiry into the application, Government inspector Simon Hand admitted his department had a backlog of traveller site cases.

In July last year, it was revealed the site was one of 24 such cases “called in” over fears inspectors were not taking concerns about the green belt seriously enough.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Another minister in the department will decide this appeal.

“It’s got to be clear that everything has to be above board so ministers step aside from making decisions so they aren’t thought to be seen to have a connection.

“There have been a number of traveller appeals that the department is looking at which may have led to the delay.”