New council bid to get tough with travellers

Council chiefs have drawn up a borough-wide policy document to tackle the growing number of unauthorised traveller camps.

Thursday, 19th January 2017, 1:49 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th January 2017, 2:52 pm
Travellers with caravans on a car park near to Leigh Sports Village

Formalising its guidelines will ensure the town hall will take “consistent and proportionate” action, a committee report has revealed.

The number of encampments has increased across the borough in the last 18 months, officers have said, causing “concern for residents” and lumbering the council with clean-up costs.

Officials believe the borough has a specific problem because many travellers use Wigan and Leigh as a stop-off point on their way to the Appleby Horse Fair, an annual gathering of travellers and gypsies in Cumbria every June.

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The corporate policy, the first of its kind for the local authority, will be discussed by the council’s Confident Places scrutiny committee next week.

The report reads: “Historically the task of tackling these encampments has fallen between various departments.

“The council has very much relied on the expertise of one or two officers to deal with this issue.

“Whilst this approach has been generally effective it is not seen as sustainable in the long term and a more formalised and corporate approach is now required.”

Clarifying issues over land ownership and ensuring welfare, enforcement and site clean-up requirements are met are all covered.

Tempers flared last year when travellers caused damage to the Rose Centre in Lowton after a break-in and councillors urged the council to take action. And Pennington Flash in Leigh has proved to be a regular camp location in recent years.

Paul Barton, assistant director for environment, said: “Protecting our land and beautiful green spaces is a top priority for us. We’ve developed a new policy to ensure we deal with any reports of unauthorised encampments in a manner that is consistent, in line with relevant legislation, and appropriate to each individual case.

“This allows us to serve notice on unauthorised encampments as soon as possible, we’ve already seen success with this approach across the borough and have had good feedback.

“We have taken longer term measures to prevent people accessing our sites illegally, for example installing a barrier at Pennington Flash, and we will continue to work with our partners to monitor any reports in the borough.”