transit site - travellers on barony park

Cheshire East Council chiefs are determined to secure a transit site for gypsies and travellers – but the council’s new leader admits it will not be popular with neighbours.

Cheshire East Council is considering whether to revive plans for a transit site at Cledford Hall in Middlewich following a spate of unauthorised encampments in the borough, including five on Barony Park in Nantwich this year.

And faced with questions from councillors and the public on tackling the issue, Cllr Sam Corcoran, CEC’s Labour leader, told Tuesday’s cabinet meeting he wants to see a transit site for the borough “in the near future”.

“We have had 10 years as a council to get a transit site set up and it is incredible that we do not have one,” he said.

“Part of the problem we have now is because surrounding council areas do have authorised encampments, and therefore the people who want to set up an unauthorised encampment come here.

“So yes, I am determined that we should have a transit site.

“It’s not a quick process or a cheap process to provide one and it will be unpopular wherever you site it – but I am determined that we will do it.”

In boroughs which have a transit site, police have the power to immediately move gypsies and travellers off unauthorised encampments and on to the transit site.

But CEC does not have a transit site, meaning it has to apply for court orders – a process which is more costly and time consuming.

In some circumstances, travellers have remained on Barony Park in Nantwich for up to five days before a court order is secured.

Cllr Corcoran said: “Everybody who I have spoken to has said that if you have a transit site in your borough then the problem diminishes. You don’t get the unauthorised encampments.

“There is difficulty there, that it is going to be unpopular wherever you put the transit site, that’s going to be unpopular with the people in that area.

“But we need a transit site and I see that as the key thing that we should be working on.

“I can’t give a timetable or set date by when we will be having a transit site, but I hope to in the near future.”

CEC gained planning permission for a transit site at Cledford Hall in 2015 despite fierce opposition from Middlewich residents and Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton, but that permission lapsed last year with no work on the site having taken place.

Tackling unauthorised encampments has been top of the agenda for the new Labour-independent administration in its first two months following a string of incidents – including at Barony Park, in Nantwich, where the leisure centre was temporarily closed off last month as a result.

Cllr Sam Corcoran

Cllr Sam Corcoran

Cllr Corcoran told cabinet a number of physical solutions had been discussed – such as fencing, bunding and placing rocks around sites such as Barony Park – but that “none of them provide an ideal solution”.

CEC has also considered applying for injunctions to prevent unauthorised encampments at hotspots such as Barony Park, but it is currently seeking legal advice after Bromley Council had a similar application rejected by the courts.

The council now expects the number of unauthorised encampments to drop off, but Cllr Corcoran added that CEC must have something in place to stop the same problems occurring next year.

Labour Cllr Nick Mannion, cabinet member for environment and regeneration, said: “It has been the number one item on my shopping list since the day I was appointed to the cabinet.

“We are working on it, we are looking at identifying an appropriate location, completing a feasibility assessment, but then like any other development we have to go through the planning process.”

Cllr Mannion added that there are currently Government grants available for transit sites – and that this should be “another incentive to get one up and running as quickly as possible”.

Crewe and Nantwich MP Laura Smith has also been lobbing the authority for action.

She said: “I asked the council to look at several options for interim solutions, including an injunction, whilst we wait for a transit site to be established. This will give our police force the ability to move any illegal camps immediately

“I have raised the issue with illegal camps with Cheshire East Council several times since my election two years ago. It is incredibly frustrating that, despite this, no solution was put in place by the previous Conservative administration.

“I hope that the new leadership of the council will be more responsive to public concern.”

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