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Calls for transit traveller site in Walsall after influx of illegal camps

By Gurdip Thandi | Walsall | Crime | Published:

Calls for a dedicated area for travellers to pitch up in Walsall have intensified following a raft of illegal encampments in the past fortnight.

Travellers on playing fields at Parkstone Close, Shelfield

Walsall Council and police have been called out on a number of occasions when groups have arrived on land at various locations in the borough – including New Invention Junior School playing fields, Coppice Farm, Holland Park in Brownhills and the Cairn in Bentley, as well private land in the town centre.

And last night around 15 vehicles moved onto council-owned playing fields in Shelfield.

Aftab Nawaz, leader of the opposition Labour group, said he was dismayed at the lack of a transit site in the town when other areas had successfully introduced one.

Walsall Liberal Democrat group leader Ian Shires added he has called for an urgent discussion on the issue of a transit site at the next scrutiny meeting.

A traveller incursion on New Invention Junior School playing fields. Photo: Councillor Adam Hicken

But Councillor Garry Perry, portfolio holder for community, leisure and culture, said the pair were politicising the issue and added the Labour-Liberal Democrat joint administration had failed to address it before the Tories took control in 2018.

He added Covid-19 had stopped progress on a transit site but a move to open a temporary one was progressing.

Police and council officers secured injunctions to move travellers from various sites, while new incursions are monitored and assessed as they happen.

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'Get on with it'

Councillor Nawaz said: “We note with dismay the delay in putting in place a transit site within the borough that would no doubt help Walsall to manage unauthorised encampments.

“The several incursions that have occurred recently and the disruption caused illustrates how important a transit site is and on observing the success in other boroughs, it seems bizarre that Walsall has not put in place a transit site.

“We call for urgent action to put in place a transit site and ask the Conservative administration to act without delay for the benefit of Walsall residents and for the Gypsy, Roma & Traveller communities.

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“Walsall needs more than just warm words when unauthorised encampments occur. The solution is ready, they know what is needed and how to do it.

“All we ask of the Conservative administration is to get on with it."

Councillor Shires said: “I have also formally requested an urgent item on the agenda of the next scrutiny overview committee later this month to discuss the whole issue around these incursions and what progress is being made towards identifying a transit site.

“I have also requested that all vulnerable sites including those subject to incursions, Coppice Farm, Essington Rd and now Five Fields be included in the list of sites protected by court injunctions.”

Councillor Perry said the council works with police and other partners to ensure the most appropriate approach is used to tackle incursions and he added injunctions sites are regularly reviewed.

He said: “I am not surprised they are attempting to make political the decision regarding a UE transit site.

“Clearly this decision should have been made when the Labour / Lib Dem were an administration and they shelved it for election purposes.

“This is yet another policy area I picked up where little had been done other than for them to have a wish list of sites largely in the Aldridge-Brownhills constituency I might add.

“It strikes me that the said individuals are unaware we are still in the midst of a global crisis – where have they been?

“The scrutiny first approach often trumpeted by Councillor Shires is what has delayed progress as councillors wished to look at the process in deciding upon a transit site with the decision on a site shortlist to have been made this year- delayed because of Covid.

“We are aware of our responsibilities – and don’t shirk them and are already assessing a possible temporary site which we hope to bring forward as soon as we can reach agreement.”

Gurdip Thandi

By Gurdip Thandi
@Gurdo

Local Democracy Reporter covering Walsall.

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