Traveller site planned in Walsall to tackle 'renegade' camps

A temporary transit site is to be created in Walsall to help tackle “renegade” travellers who have caused trouble when they have set up illegal camps.

An aerial view of the land where the traveller site is planned
An aerial view of the land where the traveller site is planned

Walsall Council’s cabinet backed a proposal to create the facility at the junction of Old Pleck Road and Darlaston Road – near the Phoenix 10 site – for the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities who visit the borough.

Members said the unused council-owned site was chosen because of its proximity to transport, education and medical facilities.

Groups which arrive in Walsall will be directed to the transit site once it is operational and, should they refuse, the police will have the power to move them on without the need for court orders.

Last summer, there were a string of unauthorised encampments (UEs) across the borough and leader Mike Bird said it cost the council in the region of £750,000 to deal with them.

Cabinet members said that while many were respectful, a large number wreaked havoc and caused distress for residents living nearby.

Among the incidents included a large group breaking onto New Invention Junior School fields in June and destroying an orchard planted by pupils. Neighbouring residents also reported them defecting in the field, lighting bonfires and committing thefts.

Councillors described some travellers who camped illegally as 'renegades'

Other unauthorised encampments occurred at Coppice Farm, which cuts across the Walsall and Wolverhampton border, Bentley, Aldridge, Brownhills and the town centre.

Many areas have injunctions on them but, once they were invoked, it is thought some of the groups moved from site to site.

Walsall Council deputy leader Adrian Andrew said: “This has been through quite a protracted process in terms of our need and our desire to deliver a temporary transit site for travellers visiting this borough.

“It is in response to the unauthorised encampments that we have seen across Walsall and it’s another part of our defence to protect local communities from those that can cause problems.”

Similar camps have been built elsewhere in the Black Country despite opposition from nearby residents. Dudley Council finished building its camp in Budden Road, Coseley, last year.

An aerial view of the land where the traveller site is planned

Councillor Garry Perry, portfolio holder for community, said the authority didn’t rush into setting up a transit site due to changes in Government legislation.

He said: “It hasn’t been easy. We cannot have a spring and a summer like we had last year. I thought the year before was bad enough but last year was particularly challenging.

“We’re talking about renegade UEs, we’re not talking about responsible ones that come to the borough to do what they need to do and understand their responsibilities that come with their rights and freedoms that they enjoy.

“Those renegade UEs have no respect. That happened last year and we saw the consequences of that.

“Where we need to, we will take a tough stance. Having a transit site is an additional tool in the bag while this legislative process is ongoing to give even more protection and more responsibility. The policy is the right thing to do.”

And clean and green boss Councillor Oliver Butler added: “I’ve been out and cleaned up after these unauthorised encampments and I can tell you, it is not a pleasant experience.

“I was at Pelsall under the railway line and saw what the guys had to disinfect and what they they had to clean, the detritus in the hedges. You are quite right to refer to renegade UEs.

“If anyone saw the aftermath of what happened to the orchard at New Invention Junior School, to have people go in there with chainsaws and burn the lot. There is no word for it. It’s a disgrace.

“We can put defences around the place but that is kind of chasing your tail and little bit and plugging holes in fences. This offers a longer term solution to redirect people.”

The authority will now seek planning permission for the facility.

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