Traveller camps cost Solihull Council over 20k last year

Dealing with gypsy and traveller camps cost Solihull Council more than £20,000 last year.

Official figures for 2018/19, released following a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, reveal that the authority had to respond to six different incursions on council-owned land.

The single most expensive incident was at Heath Park, in Chelmsley Wood, where the council was left with a bill of £11,000.

Tackling the encampment at the Bluebell Drive site accounted for more than half of the total costs incurred over the course of the financial year.

Babbs Mill, in Kingshurst, where travellers pitched up twice, was the only area to have been targeted more than once in the 12 month period.

However, there has been a significant fall in activity following on from a torrid summer a couple of years ago.

In 2017, the council had to contend with 19 separate incidents, which cost in the region of £65,000.

A bin strike over the border in Birmingham, which saw rubbish heap up across the city, was later blamed for the spike – with the increased demand for casual labour said to have brought more camps to surrounding areas.

Cllr Alison Rolf, cabinet member for stronger and safer communities, has welcomed the fact that the number of cases had fallen in recent times.

It makes a really good news story,” she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

“In years gone by we had some serious problems, but in the last couple of years we have managed well.

“I don’t want to put the kiss of death on it, but we seem to be handling the situation better, we are more on top of it, keeping abreast of things and working with police and communities.”

In response to previous problems, the council had bolstered defences at a number of parks and public spaces, in a renewed effort to prevent caravans rolling onto land.

In March 2018 it had also secured a three-year injunction against one traveller family, banning them from entering or occupying dozens of sites around the borough.

Solihull has, however, faced pressure in recent weeks to follow the lead of other local authorities and draw up plans for a dedicated “transit site”.

This provides basic facilities for short-term stays and supporters argue it gives police more options when trying to move travellers on.

Although Cllr Rolf has reiterated that she is still not convinced that this is the solution in every part of the region, rejecting a “one size fits all” approach.

“[If the evidence] persuaded me that this was the answer to the problem I may have a different view,” she said.

She also cited the challenges of trying to find a suitable location, predicting that the council would face a considerable backlash in any ward that it earmarked for a transit site.

Two years ago, Sandwell became the first of the West Midlands’ seven councils to create this type of facility.

Since then Birmingham and the three other Black Country councils (Dudley, Walsall and Wolverhampton) have signalled they will follow suit.

Solihull and Coventry are the two authorities which have no plans in the pipeline.

David Jamieson, the region’s Police and Crime Commissioner, had last month warned that the borough in particular could be vulnerable if it took a different approach .

Speaking at the most recent policing and crime panel, he said: “I just would say to them if they don’t address the problem they could … be the magnet for travellers in the West Midlands.

“So they must of course resolve their own difficulties and they must do it in a way they think is appropriate but they must also see the consequences of being out of the loop.”

2018/19 figures: Here is the full list of council-owned sites and the cost incurred from enforcement action and clearing up afterwards.

Heath Park, Chelmsley Wood – £11,000

Babbs Mill Park, Kingshurst – £3,500

Dengate Drive, Balsall Common – £600

Babbs Mill Park, Kingshurst (second incident) – £2,500

Tudor Grange Park, Solihull – £3,000

Active Angels, Tanworth Lane, Shirley – N/A

The list only includes sites that Solihull Council owns.

This means that some locations, such as Bradford Gardens, a piece of land which #CastleBromwich Parish Council is responsible for, don’t appear.

Read more: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/how-much-traveller-camps-cost-16741392