Over the past few years, the West Midlands has seen an increase in the number of unauthorised traveller sites.
Each week, my inbox is filled with correspondence from local resident’s concerned about the problem in their area.
It is a minority of the travelling community that cause problems and have been allowed to give the whole community a bad name. However, the anger felt by the public towards that minority is very real and understandable.
In 2016, West Midlands Police recorded 519 unauthorised encampments across the region, this is an average of 43 a month and is a problem that has cost councils millions of pounds in evictions and clean-up costs. Of course, it has also resulted in untold misery for local people whose lives have been disrupted.
To tackle the issue, I have advised all local authorities to provide a legal site to meet the requirements of the travelling community. By doing this, police then have the power to immediately re-direct travellers who have pitched up on private or council land, to a transit site.
Sites have basic facilities including water, electricity, toilets, washing facilities and waste disposal.
Sandwell has been quick off the mark and has already implemented a transit site. So far this year, they have not recorded a single unauthorised encampment.
I welcome the fact that other councils in the West Midlands, namely Birmingham, Dudley, Wolverhampton and Walsall, are looking to establish transit sites of their own, with some expected to open later in the year.
Sadly, Solihull Council has no plans for a transit site in the borough. My concern is that Solihull is now at risk of becoming a magnet for unauthorised encampments.
At present, in Solihull, the police can only move on unauthorised encampments, they aren’t allowed to direct groups to particular places or move them out of the borough. This means when travellers are moved on they may only go a few hundred yards down the road.
If Solihull Council puts in place a transit site, they can charge for rent and utilities. More importantly, we can direct groups to that site. If the group refuse to go, they would be expelled from the entire council area for three months. If they return to the borough, police can make arrests and seize vehicles.
Other councils are taking action to solve the problem. If Solihull does not follow suit, I am worried it will be left behind and the consequences will be felt by local residents.