Walsall MP criticises council for allowing cost of controversial temporary transit site to 'over-run'

An MP has accused council chiefs of having the "wrong priorities" over a temporary transit site where costs are expected to increase by almost 250 per cent.

Valerie Vaz
Valerie Vaz

The site on Narrow Lane, Walsall, had been expected to cost £160,000 for design work, surveys and construction, in February according to council documents.

But the figure has since sky-rocketed – with the estimated spend on the controversial site expected to reach £590,000, council chiefs have since confirmed.

Bosses have argued the increase in cost is down to the feedback received and their push to make the site acceptable for travellers and people living nearby.

However Valerie Vaz, Labour MP for Walsall South, has criticised the Conservative-led council for allowing spending to "over-run" over the site in Pleck.

She said: "I am alarmed that Walsall Council may have exceeded the costs by over 250 per cent on a site that was opposed by over 2,000 residents in the area and was never part of the Site Allocation Document allocated as a GRT site.

"The council have frequently cited a lack of funds to undertake local services. For example, they said they have no funds to re-fence the allotments at Hucker Road after a break-in. The Youth Service which had a building on the Site is operating from a porta-cabin in another location.

"My constituents would like a 24 hour patrol to catch fly-tippers and to keep our streets clean. Conservative-controlled Walsall Council has the wrong priorities, allowing spending to over-run on this site instead of investing in local people."

The MP has also hit out at the authority for the space not being allocated as a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) community site – alongside concerns over the site being next to "one of the most polluted" junctions in Walsall.

However authority leaders said the issues raised over the site, at the junction of Old Pleck Road and Darlaston Road, were considered as part of the planning process before it was rubber-stamped.

Councillor Garry Perry, deputy leader for resilient communities, said: "Between the Walsall Cabinet approval in February and the submission of the planning application in March, the council has engaged with members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community and representatives from community groups in the Pleck area of the borough.

"The original site design was based on similar provision in the West Midlands, however, in response to the feedback received, significant enhancements were made to create an environment that meets the needs of both those staying at the site and the surrounding settled community. These enhancements include the provision of individual toilet and shower units, an electricity supply to each pitch and drainage improvements. Additional CCTV was added at the request of members of the local community and the site was extended to incorporate an alley way which was an existing source of local concerns about antisocial behaviour and crime."

Councillor Perry added the scheme has "always been about improving our offer" to a community among the most socially excluded in the UK – and said the development had already been visited and applauded by other councils interested in the approach Walsall has taken.

He added: "While the construction of the site has cost more than originally anticipated, the additional expenditure has resulted in a design that acknowledges concerns raised by local residents and that we hope will welcome and meet the needs of the travelling community. The additional expenditure has been accommodated within existing capital budgets. As a result of the Site Allocation Document (SAD) further suitable locations for transit sites may also be realised in the future."

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