ATTEMPTS to open a transit site for gypsies and travellers in Cheshire West are being paused as the Government considers new laws to clampdown on unauthorised encampments.

Cheshire West and Chester Council withdrew plans to open a transit site in Ellesmere Port in 2018, while four councillors who conducted a review on the borough’s support for travellers last year recommended that a transit site should be prioritised.

But now the Government is considering giving police the power to move gypsies and travellers from unauthorised encampments to suitable authorised sites in neighbouring boroughs – such as the transit site in Halton.

Cllr Lynn Gibbon, Conservative CWAC member for Marbury, was one of the councillors who took part in the review.

Speaking at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, she hit out at the administration over a ‘catalogue of indecision’ on introducing a transit site.

“I realise this is an emotive subject and I welcome the overall work undertaken with travelling communities,” she said.

Winsford Guardian:

“However, this is a report of dither and delay that is unfair on everyone – unfair on the travelling community, unfair on local communities having to live with unauthorised encampments, unfair on police and officers dealing with situations across the borough.

“Cllr [Margaret] Parker and I are disappointed and at a loss as to why the group was formed. If recommendations are to be ignored – what was the point of the work?”

Conservatives Cllr Gibbon and Cllr Parker worked on the review with Labour’s Cllr Carol Gahan and Cllr Val Armstrong, who all found it to be a ‘safe place’ for travellers to access crucial services.

Under current law, police have the power to immediately move gypsies and travellers off unauthorised encampments when there is a transit site in the same borough.

CWAC does not currently have a transit site, which would provide suitable facilities for travellers looking to stay in the borough temporarily and raise an income for the council.

Cllr Gahan, cabinet member for legal and finance, said: “I was on the task group and it was a worthwhile experience – we discovered so much more about the plight of gypsy and traveller communities.

Winsford Guardian:

“We did identify that a transit site would be the best option, however, changes that are coming forward at the moment in legislation do present some different possibilities which may be better.

“We haven’t got a site readily available at the moment, so although I see this as a pause, I’m hoping it will be a short pause and we will be able to move quickly once the legislation has been firmed up – and I believe we are expecting that halfway through this year.”

Cheshire West saw a drop in the number of unauthorised encampments in 2019 – with 56 compared to 83 in 2018.

But Halton, which has had a transit site since 2009, sees far fewer numbers – with just three unauthorised encampments in the borough in the first seven months of 2019.

CWAC’s cabinet agreed to set up an officer working group to respond to unauthorised encampments, and to provide a further update in 12 months, giving time for new legislation to be ironed out by Government.

“This has been going on for a long time but I think ‘dither and delay’ is slightly unfair,” added Cllr Richard Beacham, cabinet member for housing, regeneration and growth.

“The council had submitted a planning application for a transit site, and the reality of that location was that it wouldn’t be to the benefit of the health and wellbeing of the people that would use it.

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“The gypsy and traveller community are amongst the most discriminated against in our society and already experience poor health outcomes.

“If we are going to be realistic about trying to support people, we have to make sure that all the decisions we take fall in line with the ambition of trying to support people.”