SANDWELL WINS GOVERNMENT PRAISE FOR DEALING WITH UNAUTHORISED ENCAMPMENTS

Sandwell Council has won praise from the Government for dealing with unauthorised encampments.

During a debate in the House of Commons on Monday evening, MPs discussed how councils were dealing with travelling groups around the country.

Conservative MP Andrew Selous told the House that current legislation was failing both the travelling and settled communities, and that he was encouraging his local council and police to follow Sandwell’s lead and create a temporary transit site for traveller groups.

He said: “I am strongly encouraging Central Bedfordshire Council to adopt the policy of Sandwell Council in having a temporary stopping site. “The provision of that site has led to a significant decrease in unauthorised encampments and the associated clear-up costs and environmental degradation that sadly so often accompany them.” Sandwell Council created a transit site in September last year (2017), unlocking powers that allow police to direct traveller groups to a transit site in Smethwick where they must pay rent and a deposit, or leave the borough.

Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for regeneration and economy Councillor Paul Moore said: “It’s good to hear Sandwell being mentioned positively and to have the efforts we’ve put into dealing with unauthorised encampments recognised by MPs. “Since the transit site opened nearly a year ago, there has been 17 occasions when groups have attempted to set up unauthorised encampments in Sandwell.

All of them have been ordered to move to the transit site or leave the borough within a matter of hours of their arrival.” In 2016/17, travelling groups spent 577 days camped in Sandwell while the police and council used bailiffs and the court process to move them on. In 2017/18, this was reduced to just 33 days. And the cost of dealing with unauthorised encampments – particularly the fly-tipping and damage left in the aftermath – fell by 96% from £252,000 to just £10,000. During the debate, Housing Minister Kit Malthouse MP also praised the council’s partnership with West Midlands Police. “We have seen that a multi-agency approach is vital in dealing with these incidents successfully,” he said. “Local authorities, the police and other agencies should work together to find appropriate solutions. In some areas, such as Sandwell, we have seen that that can work.” Sandwell Council hosted West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson last week ahead of his regional summit on the issue of unauthorised encampments. Officers briefed him on how the council’s use of the transit site and working with West Midlands Police had led to a 95% reduction in the number of days unauthorised encampments spent in the borough over the past two years.

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