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Unauthorised encampments down 50% thanks to tough action

Published 20th September 2017

Councillor Elaine Costigan, Sgt Gavin Peever, Council Leader Councillor Steve Eling, Councillor Richard Marshall, Chief Superintendent Richard Baker and Councillor Paul Moore at the new transit site in Smethwick.

The number of unauthorised encampments in Sandwell has fallen by more than 50% in just one year, thanks to tough measures by the council and police.

In 2016, the number of unauthorised encampments coming to Sandwell hit a high of 83.
 
So far this year, groups have set up camp in Sandwell 26 times, compared to 55 times between January and September 2016.
 
Travelling groups can now be moved to a transit site in Smethwick – or ordered to leave the borough or face be banned from returning for three months.
 
The council has also used bailiffs alongside police powers to swiftly move encampments from council-owned land – as well as an injunction preventing one particular family from setting up camp anywhere in Sandwell.
 
Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for regeneration Councillor Paul Moore said: “Up until last year, we were seeing a huge increase each year in the number of unauthorised encampments.
 
“We have overhauled our policies to tackle this issue and changed how we respond. As a council, we spent more than £250,000 last year dealing with unauthorised encampments and clean ups. This had to stop.
 
“Every time an unauthorised encampment comes to Sandwell, we now deploy staff from various teams including trading standards, our wardens and social workers so we can go through the process and move groups on as quickly as possible.
 
“The powers connected with the creation of the transit site were used for the first time earlier this month – a group with caravans decided to leave Sandwell rather than pay the £80 a week rent on the transit site.
 
“Not only have we reduced the number of unauthorised encampments, we’ve also seen the length of time groups are on our land reduce dramatically – they are being moved on much quicker and the vast majority are gone within hours.
 
“I want to reassure people that we remain resolute to tackling this problem and responding to the concerns of Sandwell residents .”
 
As well as the transit site and the use of police and bailiffs, the council has also secured sites known for unauthorised encampments to prevent trespassing. Checks found 86 sites owned by the council and privately had been targeted by groups since 2013.
 
The cost to the council for dealing with unauthorised encampments, including clean-up, site security, bailiffs and court costs is estimated to be more than £250k in 2016/17.