Dudley residents have told us very clearly that they want action taken to prevent unauthorised encampments by travellers.
Such encampments cause frustration, fear and anger among residents in local communities through damage and nuisance.
It is currently costing the council – and the taxpayer – in excess of £150,000 per year in legal and clean-up costs to move travellers on from illegal encampments on parks and open spaces in the borough.
Over three years, having a transit site is likely to save money and save many Dudley communities from the anger, frustration and annoyance of having valued green spaces damaged and contaminated with waste by unauthorised incursions, as has happened in recent years.
To be able to use the additional powers the transit site needs to be within the Dudley borough. The site gives the council and police new powers to address unauthorised incursions. This power only applies if the transit site is located within the borough.
The council currently has to secure possession of an occupied site via a legal process that can take between three and seven working days to complete.
The existence of a transit site allows the police to use the “power to direct” under section 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Under this section of the act, groups forming unlawful encampments can be ordered by the police to move all caravans and vehicles to a transit site if one is available.
Any group that refuses to leave when directed by the police under section 62, or that return to any site within the same local authority area within three months of being directed to move to a transit site, would be committing a criminal offence.
The effect of the powers provided by the provision of a transit site means that unauthorised encampments could be dealt with in as little as three hours if a group refused to move.
Other councils who have provided transit sites have found there has been a very significant reduction in the overall number of illegal encampments experienced.
For example, Telford & Wrekin Council experienced 150 unauthorised encampments during 2015. During 2017 following provision of a transit site, this number dropped to 18. Due to the fact that the power under section 62a is available, 17 of the 18 moved within half a day out of the borough. The remaining incursion moved to the transit site.
Sandwell has recently established a transit site in Smethwick after experiencing 85 incursions during 2016/17. Since providing the site earlier this year there has been nine further unauthorised incursions, all but one of which moved on within two hours. The remaining encampment of two caravans moved to the transit site as instructed, but left rather than pay the required deposit and advanced rental.
It is likely, based on evidence from elsewhere, that overall the site will be used very infrequently indeed.
Groups of travellers moving to the temporary transit site will be charged rent to stay temporarily on the site, and only groups camping illegally on council-owned sites within the borough will be moved to the transit site.
Based upon similar arrangements elsewhere, notably in Sandwell, the charge would be in the region of £80 per caravan per week as well as a security deposit on the site payable in advance.
Such a group would also have to adhere to an agreement signed by them on behaviour and littering prior to occupation.
In Sandwell, caravans can stay up to four weeks but none have yet stayed overnight. We will decide how long travellers can stay on our site if the decision is taken to provide a transit site.
Officers were directed to identify sites that were large enough for around 40 caravans and towing vehicles.
Ten sites were identified and a range of criteria established against which to ‘score’ sites. They include whether the site is currently available for use, whether there are potential alternative uses being considered, the suitability of the location, access and planning and other constraints.
Having carefully considered all of the sites available, the site that ranked highest was the site at Budden Road, Coseley.
Use of the site was approved by Dudley’s cabinet and the site has planning consent for the use.
While the use of the site was deferred while we sought to identify alternative sites, there is no barrier to using the site for the purpose now it has been determined that there are no realistic alternative sites available.
The council undertook a further site-finding exercise, asking more than 100 estate agents to help find a suitable site. Unfortunately, no alternative site was identified that is as appropriate as Budden Road.
Under current powers available to the council, the process of securing a court order to move the travellers on can take between five and seven working days.
The presence of a transit site means that the additional powers can be used within hours.
In the unlikely event that the site is used, we will constantly monitor the area during the period it is being occupied by travellers.
We will consider the impacts of any encampment once they have moved on and, importantly, any impact on the local community.
The council has no intention of letting the transit site have a negative impact on the lives of local Coseley residents.
There is no evidence at all which indicates that the presence of an organised transit site affects either house values or insurance premiums.