Force Focus column By David Jamieson
My postbag and inbox are filled, each week, with correspondence from local residents concerned about unauthorised traveller encampments in their areas.
There are few issues that get local people so passionate, and rightly so. These problems have been around for too long and too little has been done to address them.
But we shouldn’t shy away from the difficult issues, least of all those that matter so much to people.
There were an estimated 395 unauthorised encampments in the West Midlands in 2016, more than doubling from 189 in 2011.
This has cost local councils millions of pounds in clean-up and eviction costs. It has also resulted in untold misery for local people whose lives have been disrupted.
It is a minority of travellers who 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.
The powers the police have to deal with the issue are limited. That is why I am taking action to strengthen them, working with MPs from across the political spectrum to amend the law to give new powers to manage the issue more effectively.
I have also called on local councils to bring in ‘Transit Sites.’ They enable local authorities to charge groups for rent and utilities.
If Solihull council puts in place a ‘Transit Site’, the police are given the powers they need to direct groups to that place. 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.
At present, in Solihull, the police can only move on unauthorised traveller 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.
I am working to break down borders and strengthen the law so that those powers can be used across the West Midlands. Parliament will be debating this issue on Monday 9th October. This will be an opportunity for our local MPs to raise these issues and get Ministers to take the urgent action we need.
Banning the worst groups from the whole West Midlands area for three months at a time would be a serious deterrent. Currently, there is no easy way to stop an anti-social group from unleashing misery by travelling between and within each local council area until they are moved on.
I am working to change that.