Travellers camped in 20 caravans on the outskirts of Didcot are hoping to win permission to stay permanently.

The travellers' site at Hadden Hill

Despite objections from residents, the travellers, who say they have bought the three-and-a-half acre field at Hadden Hill, are applying for planning permission to make it a permanent site.

In the face of mounting complaints from residents, South Oxfordshire District Council has said it will "monitor" the situation, but a spokesman admitted that even if planning permission was refused, the process could take months to complete.

Ed Vaizey, prospective parliamentary Conservative candidate for the area, has warned the Human Rights Act could make it impossible for the council to refuse permission as the travellers could claim a right to enjoy their property.

About 30 travellers moved on to the field near Hadden Hill Golf Course three weeks ago. They have since laid hard core and created a new entrance from Wallingford Road.

The field, which is in the parish of North Moreton, was originally purchased by a Romany Gipsy now living at Tadley, Berkshire, and sold on to seven traveller families. Their spokesman John Brien, 52, who runs a tree-cutting and landscape gardening business, said he bought his plot for £4,500 two-and-a-half years ago. He said they aimed to fence off their plots and make them into permanent sites for chalets or mobile homes.

His wife, Marjie, 50, said: "All the families want to find a permanent site in order for our children or grandchildren to be able to attend schools."

Mr Brien said: "As travellers, we are fed up with constantly being moved on. There are no vacancies on council-owned sites and so we have provided our own site."

Residents said they were furious that an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was being blighted.

One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: "The travellers have created a new access from the field on to the busy A4130 Wallingford Road, which was already a very dangerous road."

Mr Vaizey - who hopes to succeed retiring Wantage MP Robert Jackson at the next General Election - wants the Government to make it an offence to go ahead with development without first securing planning consent.

He said: "As the law stands, landowners are able to apply for retrospective planning permission which is a long, drawn-out process. It is a scandalous sit- uation."

Under the Human Rights Act, people occupying land can claim the right to the quiet enjoyment of their property.

Neighbours have also blamed the travellers for an increase in crime. A spokesman for Didcot police said: "There has been a marked rise in crime in the Hadden Hill area over the past two weeks.

"At this time there is no evidence that recent incidents are connected to travellers based at Hadden Hill.

"We urge anyone who has any information about any of the recent incidents - including four burglaries - to contact Insp Jane Meadows at Didcot police station on 08458 505505."