Traveller transit site remains a long way off

April 02 2020

A TRANSIT site where illegal traveller encampments in South Gloucestershire can be moved on to will take up to seven years to find, councillors have been told.

There are no temporary stopping places for gypsy or travelling families in the district, making it harder for the police and local authority to tackle the problem, according to a report.

But because it will take so long to identify a suitable location, council officers are set to hold talks with their Bristol counterparts to use the city’s transit site in Lawrence Weston on a formal basis.

At present, travellers in South Gloucestershire who set up camp without a landowner’s permission on sites such as Siston Common are moved there on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis.

A report to scrutiny commission members said any encampment on public or private land without a landowner’s consent is considered unlawful.

“However, the council’s ability to address these instances (working with the police) is more limited than it otherwise might be, as there are no transit sites and no negotiated/temporary stopping places on which gypsies and travellers are permitted to stop within South Gloucestershire.”

It said the number of illegal camps had been falling for years, from 72 in 2014/15 to 21 last year.

But the report said: “There are a number of locations where unauthorised encampments often occur, which include the areas around Siston, Webbs Heath, Chesley Hill, Yate and Alveston commons and also playing fields and sports grounds within the Kingswood area.”

It said the reasons for the decline included practical measures to discourage illegal occupation, such as physical barriers, and an increased use of permanent gypsy/traveller sites, including the district’s 39 pitches at Patchway and Winterbourne, where  more families have stayed with relatives while passing through the area.

The report said a transit site in South Gloucestershire could “enable police to use their powers more effectively – any group that refuses to leave would be committing a criminal offence”, while a temporary stopping place, which has more basic amenities and is available only during peak demand, would also help.

The council has rejected a number of sites suggested by the travelling community as unsuitable and is instead reviewing land it owns.

“Owing to the potential complexities, officers consider that the provision of a transit site/temporary stopping place in South Gloucestershire would be likely to be brought forward within the next five to seven years,” the report said.

“With this in mind, officers consider that there may be value in revisiting discussions with Bristol City Council to investigate whether potential exists for a formal agreement around use of the transit site on Kings Weston Lane in the short term.”

Council leader Toby Savage told members: “First and foremost it’s a planning consideration.

“But there is also a very specific aim to not want to draw undue attention onto a vulnerable group in society that’s subject to significant levels of discrimination."

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service