A £1.25 million transit site built to ‘alleviate’ problems caused by illegal traveller incursions across West Sussex has been open three months – but has it cured the county’s woes?
From the perspective of councils which jointly funded the £1.25 million site, the answer is undoubtedly ‘yes’.
The site was built by West Sussex County Council in partnership with all councils across the county, which had all spent hundreds of thousands of pounds pursuing traveller eviction cases through the courts.
The new facility gave police extra powers under section 62 of the Criminal Justice Act to move illegal incursions to Westhampnett, or leave the county altogether if they refuse.
“The transit site is working well and having the desired effect in dealing with unauthorised encampments,” said West Sussex County Council (WSCC) cabinet member for community wellbeing Christine Field.
“It is important that the accommodation needs of all gypsies and travellers who pass through our county are adequately addressed, and that the disruption an unauthorised encampment can cause to local residents and land owners is minimised.”
While it is early days, WSCC figures suggest the site’s most significant success so far is time.
The council said the average time travellers illegally spent on unauthorised sites, such as village greens and parks, has reduced from up to ten days to two days or less.
A total of 14 encampments have been recorded since the transit site opened on May 6, with section 62 powers activated five times.
Seven groups left before police had served papers, as they did not want to go to Westhampnett.
The remaining groups were moved on using the Education Act, while the other was dealt with by private bailiffs as they were on private land.
Deputy leader of Arun District Council Dudley Wensley said there had been a ‘noticeable difference’ since the site opened cutting the time taken to deal with travellers.
“The longer these illegal encampments remained on the sites they caused increasing concern and inconvenience to the local communities which has now be minimised,” he said.
“I hope the use of the available police powers, now we have a transit site in West Sussex, sends out a clear message to those considering embarking on these illegal activities that they are not welcome in the Arun District or indeed the rest of the county.”
Worthing Borough Council reported six incursions since the site opened, with groups moved on within 48 hours.
The authority incurred nearly £50,000 in capital costs dealing with travellers between 2012 and 2014, with partner authority Adur District Council incurring costs of £35,000 over the same period.
The lengthy process of evictions also had a significant hit on officer time.
Each authority initially contributed £125,000 to the project but a £630,000 grant from the Homes and Communities Agency reduced the required contribution by £46,000.
A further sum of £15,000 per year for maintenance is also required from each partner.
Worthing Borough Council leader Dan Humphreys said: “I’m very pleased that our decision to open a transit site is working well. The police are now able to move travellers away from unauthorised sites much more quickly and this appears to have acted as an effective deterrent to people wanting to camp unlawfully in caravans. “The reduction in the number of unlawful encampments has meant that all of us who live in Worthing are able to enjoy using our parks and open spaces whenever we like, as we always should have been able to.”
A spokesman for Chichester District Council, which has experienced just one incursion since the site opened, said the council was satisfied with the facility so far.
They said: “It is still early days but since the site opened, we have been satisfied with the way any unauthorised encampments have been dealt with. Feedback so far suggests the site is working and we continue to monitor the site’s success in partnership with other local authorities.”