Residents have told of their “alarm” after 500 caravans descended on a Seaham field for a five-day gypsy church convention.
Light and Life Gypsy Church, a national religious organisation which is aimed at travellers, arrived at Seaham Hall Farm on Sunday evening.
At the height of the convention, there are set to be 2,000 people at the event, with gospel being preached.
The Christian group is expected to remain in Seaham until Friday, and Coun Edward Bell, the leader of Seaham Town Council, has voiced his concern.
Coun Bell said: “We are not against the convention, but it would have been nice to have had some consultation with some ground rules set.
“I’m really disappointed that the people that have gone there have not really talked to the town council to tell us what they are about, and the aims of the convention.
“I have been more concerned about the impact they may have on the town itself, as it’s such a large number. We don’t know if they have adequate provisions for things like toilets and rubbish.
“For a number that size to descend on a town like Seaham, it can impact on local services.
“On social media, there have been lots of concerns raised about what is happening.
“I’m not going to be negative about the people coming to Seaham, but I am concerned about the lack of consultation and the impact that has on a town of our size.”
A Seaham resident, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s quite alarming that something like this can happen in such a short space of time, without residents being consulted about it.
“This must have been planned by them for quite a while, and none of us were told about it.
“I’m really concerned, because we have had history with the travelling community with horse fairs, and the mess they can leave behind.”
Jackie Boyd, one of the leaders of the the church, said: “We’re a church organisation which primarily reaches gypsies and travellers, but not only them.
“We have 33 churches within the UK and reach 52 countries.
“This is our national convention, and we hold it every year in a different place. We put a big marquee up.
“We held our first meeting yesterday morning, and got permission from the landowner to be here.
“A lot of people visit for the day as well, and at its height, there should be about 2,000 people here.
“We’re a Christian organisation, a registered charity. We don’t break any laws.
“You can’t put 500 caravans somewhere without having the proper permission.”