CASH-STRAPPED Sandwell Council got tough with travellers this week using new eviction powers after new figures revealed 30 per cent of all illegal encampments in the West Midlands were in the borough.
All leisure centre car parks in Sandwell were closed on Monday after travellers moved onto Haden Hill Leisure Centre in Cradley Heath and the Portway Lifestyle Centre and West Bromwich Street in Oldbury.
In a game of cat and mouse travellers were forced to move five times as Sandwell Council bosses lamented the £400,000 the problem has cost in the last year.
The borough faced 83 of the 280 incidents in the West Midlands which forced a new approach with the police and bailiffs which allows travellers to be moved on within 24 hours.
Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for regeneration and investment Councillor Paul Moore said: “We’re securing high-risk sites , looking at proposals for a transit site and lobbying the police to make sure there is a consistent response to unauthorised encampments.
“We’re also taking legal action against specific individuals and legal action to prevent other groups to stop them setting up camp on certain sites.”
Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for leisure Councillor Richard Marshall added: “We know how frustrating these encampments are for residents and businesses, and I want to reassure people that the council is taking this seriously and taking action quickly.
“The council has spent around £400,000 over the past year or so this needs to stop.”
Andrew Leigh, head of Dudley Council’s housing strategy and development service, claimed there were 20 unauthorised encampments in Dudley, compared to six in 2012.
He said: “It had a significant impact on limited resources and we spent £57,000 to clear up sites.
“We had a pretty difficult year, it was an expensive cat and mouse game across the borough. We applied for a borough-wide possession order but that was rejected by the courts. Instead they gave us an order that covered a number of neighbouring sites."
David Jamieson, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, hosted a summit on Friday in the hope of finding a solution to the region-wide issue.
The summit, attended by MPs, other PCCs, senior police officers, council officials and members of the travelling community, heard how the number of unauthorised sites in the West Midlands has risen from 189 to 395 since 2011.
Mr Jamieson said: “At the moment, we are not doing the right job in the right way for everybody - this summit helped us see that and move forward."