No quick solution to unauthorised traveller camps, Walsall Council bosses warn
Council chiefs have warned there will be no overnight solution to dealing with unauthorised traveller encampments in Walsall.
Walsall Labour group tabled a motion at a full council meeting on Monday calling for a transit site to be identified and operating within three months to address issues caused across the borough.
But the ruling Conservative administration rejected the motion and said a working party had been set up to discuss the problem which will include consulting with residents before any site is identified before a lengthy planning process would start.
Walsall Labour leader Aftab Nawaz said: “By no means do I want to discriminate against travelling communities.
“They are a community to be respected, they’ve got a rich culture they should be proud of and we should be proud of seeing that culture.
“But there are a minority of incidents where we have unauthorised encampments that create a lot of disruption and distress amongst the non-travelling community.
“Our notice of motion is a pragmatic approach looking at the way Sandwell’s done it but not asking for that to be totally replicated because we would have a transit site that provides services and enable officers to interact with the travelling community.
“But it is also factual that in Sandwell, where they have set up a transit site they have reduced unauthorised encampments to almost zero. They’ve have two and last year we had 16.
“Administrations have been looking at this issue for quite a long time and our motion puts a three-month time limit on it because the longer we leave it the more incidents we have of unauthorised encampments.
“The public are losing confidence in the council to deal with these issues.”
Councillor Garry Perry, portfolio holder for community, said a working party had been set up to discuss the whole issue and this would report back in October.
He said: “We do not support the motion and not because we don’t agree we need a transit site because we do and we recognise that.
“Of course there is a loss of confidence as there is a natural suspicion of UEs and the travelling community in general. We, as elected members, have a duty to communicate what the process is when this happens.
“In terms of the approach we take, it has to be done in a measured way. What we can learn from Sandwell is its a model that does not work for the whole community. It is restricted in its practice, it doesn’t recognise things such as public health aspect but also it is a way of just moving the problem on."
Council leader Mike Bird added: “There needs to be a resolution but it needs to be the right resolution and the only way to do that is to go through the process meticulously and take the people of Walsall with us.
And if you honestly believe you can get a planning application through in three months then you haven’t been around long enough. It’ll take a lot longer than that. You are talking between six and 12 months in my view.
“It may be there will be more than one site. There may be two or three.”