Traveller sites have left councils with bills of thousands – new figures reveal

TRAVELLERS have cost councils thousands of pounds in legal fees and clear-up costs, it has been revealed.

Portsmouth City Council spent £8,875 between 2016-17 cleaning up after travellers at unauthorised sites and on legal costs removing them.

Contractors removing vehicles at Eastney on Wednesday. Picture: Portsmouth City Council

Contractors removing vehicles at Eastney on Wednesday. Picture: Portsmouth City Council

But Havant Borough Council revealed it spent £8,000 – on officer time, court costs, site clearance and bailiffs – since April this year alone.

Councillor Narinder Bains, Havant’s cabinet lead for neighbourhoods, safety and enforcement, said: ‘We have worked hard to ensure our processes are more robust and quicker to ensure all unlawful encampments on our land are swiftly dealt with.

‘We are grateful to residents who act as our eyes and ears.’

Recent activity in the city includes a police and council removal operation of the remnants of an encampment in Eastney on Wednesday.

City council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said ‘costs at the moment could be higher’ than near £9,000 figure revealed under freedom of information laws.

There was just one traveller eviction in Portsmouth in 2017.

The cost in Portsmouth links with a BBC probe of councils across the south coast, which found authorities -– stretching to Bournemouth – have spent more than £1million over a three-year period. 

The numbers have sparked debate on whether councils in our region should create designated, authorised spaces where travellers can camp – potentially alleviating the strain on local resources deployed to clamp down on sites hit.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said ‘there are almost none’ such authorised sites in Portsmouth and current priorities make their introduction unlikely.

‘It comes out of the same fund as building homes for local families and the demand is so huge I think we would have to prioritise,’ he said. 

‘I think it is right that we prioritise building more flats for local people to rent, at a price they can afford.’ 

As previously reported, travellers have recently set up encampments at no fewer than nine sites around the Portsmouth area, including Canoe Lake, Southsea Common, Ferry Road in Eastney, Watersedge Park, Five Heads Recreation Ground in Horndean and Fareham Leisure Centre.

Cllr Dave Ashmore, cabinet member community safety at the city council said: ‘The council seeks to continually assess the accommodation needs of the traveller community.

‘We do this by gathering information from them on the reasons for their stay in the area; whether they have a permanent base or where they have travelled from; and whether they have any need or preference to settle permanently.

‘This information is collected as part of a welfare assessment and site report. These factors help to determine if we can negotiate a stopping period, or if we need to issue a direction to leave.

‘It has been identified in Portsmouth there is no current or future need for fixed and transit sites as there have historically been a very low number of unauthorised encampments.’