New temporary stopping sites for travellers proposed in Central Beds

Two new temporary stopping sites for travellers are proposed in Central Beds. Picture: PA IMAGES

Two new temporary stopping sites for travellers are proposed in Central Beds. Picture: PA IMAGES - Credit: Archant

A £450,000 scheme for two temporary travellers sites in Central Bedfordshire has cleared another hurdle – but where they are located will need to be thoroughly debated, councillors have said.

Central Bedfordshire Council has proposed the two sites in response to residents’ concerns about a lack of enforcement in dealing with traveller-related issues.

A ‘gipsy and traveller unit’ is also being set up, a meeting of Central Bedfordshire Council’s sustainable communities overview and scrutiny committee was told.

It will be funded from its community safety reserve at a cost of a further £500,000 for two years, with future costs managed through its financial planning process.

At the meeting, director of community services Marcel Coiffait said: “People won’t necessarily welcome these potential sites with open arms.

“But the purpose of them is to take away another problem, which is unauthorised encampments.

“Swapping that for a single regulated site is actually a benefit to those communities, so we will be focusing our attention on those bits of Central Bedfordshire which suffer from unauthorised encampments. Those are the communities with the problem we’re trying to solve.”

Most Read

The local authority wants to “take a more proactive stance on a range of gipsy and traveller issues”, according to a report to councillors.

It wants to work more closely with local communities and provide “a more efficient response to dealing with gipsy and traveller matters in Central Bedfordshire”.

There are 38 permanent sites in Central Bedfordshire, as well as two which are council-owned and nine travelling showpeople sites.

The council’s head of community safety, parking and programme Jeanette Keyte said: “Generally those sites don’t cause us any problems.

“But you’ll be aware there are some sites, such as Billington, have more complex problems, which need more of an input from the council.”

In terms of the temporary stopping sites, Councillor Keyte said: “We are looking at one in the south and one in the north, in the south up to 35 caravans, and in the north up to 15.

“Those figures are based on the unauthorised encampments which come into Central Bedfordshire, which we work with.”

Conservative Dunstable Icknield councillor David McVicar, who chairs the committee, said: “We know it’s a problem, and it’s not going to go away overnight.

“But we are now moving in a far more positive direction than we have done in all the years I have been involved with gipsy and traveller incursions.

“I certainly hope our MPs will have some success with pushing through legislation in parliament to make unauthorised encampments a criminal offence.”

Councillors said the locations of temporary stopping sites would need to be thoroughly debated.

Councillor McVicar said: “I still bear the scars of the last gipsy and traveller site assessment.

“I would like to get a new bulletproof vest. We can’t just drop these sites out of the blue on to this council.

“There would be uproar if we did.”

Conservative Arlesey councillor Ian Dalgarno said: “Wherever we put one of these it’s going to be difficult.

“We do need one in the south and we need one in the north.

“We don’t as yet have any particular site that we want, we are a little too early in the programme to be doing that.”

Fly-tipping issues around parts of the A5/M1 link road have been concerning Conservative Toddington councillor Tom Nicols, who said there has been a colossal increase in traveller incursions on Highways England Land – and when CBC chase Highways England, “they say they can’t legally do anything as they already put the necessary barriers up, lock the gates, put wooden fences in and dig ditches.”

He also said he police say they’re not going to do anything because it’s down to Highways England.”

Councillors concluded by agreeing to recommend to the executive that the required funding for the temporary stops in Central Bedfordshire should be included in the council’s medium-term financial plans.