PCC welcomes Sandwell Council's plan for temporary transit site for travellers

Sandwell Council is considering plans to create a temporary transit site for travellers - a move welcomed by West Midlands PCC David Jamieson.

If approved at a meeting on March 22, the site in Smethwick could be used by groups who would pay £80 per caravan per week to pitch up for a short stay - plus a £250 deposit for each group.

By creating a transit site - a multi-agency approach between Sandwell Council and West Midlands Police - police could use previously unavailable powers to immediately remove unauthorised encampments from council land and order travellers to move to the transit site within an agreed time.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said: "I welcome Sandwell Council's strong and swift response following my summit on unauthorised traveller camps.

"Such camps impact on people's homes, businesses and public spaces so I encourage this major step forward. This move will see the travelling community pay for the use of the transit site and save taxpayers money.

"I now hope other local councils follow Sandwell's lead and take on board the best practice shared at my summit into this important issue."

Groups who refuse to move to the transit site could be directed from the borough by the police and prevented from returning for three months.

The council has dealt with more than 85 unauthorised encampments this financial year with the cost of clean-ups, site security, bailiffs and court costs adding up to more than £250,000 in 2016/17. Unauthorised encampments also take up large amounts of time for both the council and the police.

Sandwell Council's cabinet member for regeneration Councillor Paul Moore said: "By creating a transit site, the police can unlock additional legal powers to order an unauthorised encampment to relocate to the transit site.

"Our hope is that this would significantly reduce the amount of money the council spends on cleaning up after unauthorised encampments.

"The transit site is one of several actions we're taking to tackle the issue of trespassing on council land in Sandwell. We would be the only area in the West Midlands to be using these special police powers by providing a transit site.

"Last year, 30% of the unauthorised encampments in the whole of the West Midlands were located in Sandwell.

"Potentially, given we will have spent in excess of a quarter of a million pounds on dealing with them this financial year, the transit site could pay for itself very quickly.

"We need to reduce the amount of disruption and upset that unauthorised encampments cause for our communities across Sandwell."

The land identified for the transit site is derelict land off Boulton Road in Smethwick that used to have flats and maisonettes built on it before they were demolished 15 years ago. The site is isolated and not overlooked.

The site would have room for up to 34 caravans that would be charged £80 per week per caravan, plus a £250 deposit for each group staying there. There would be strict rules in place on littering and behaviour.

The compound would have security fencing and toilet and washing facilities in a converted shipping container. The cost of creating the site would be around £195,000.

The plan will be considered at the council's Cabinet meeting on March 22. If approved, a planning application would then be submitted.

Chief Superintendent Richard Baker from Sandwell Police said: "We fully support Sandwell Council's approach of developing a transit site within the borough.

"The demand that unauthorised encampments places on both police and council resources is increasing year-on-year. This site will balance the need to accommodate members of the travelling community, most of whom are well-behaved law-abiding citizens, with focusing resources on criminal behaviour if and when it occurs.

"The site will enable the police, working in partnership with the council, to use additional enforcement powers that will prevent those who refuse to comply with the legislation from returning to Sandwell for a period of three months.

"Evidence from other locations within the UK has shown the overall number of encampments is much lower in areas where transit sites exist."