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Christchurch councillors dismiss permanent travellers site idea

Travellers at Mudeford Quay
Travellers at Mudeford Quay

CHRISTCHURCH councillors have opposed potential plans for BCP Council to provide stopping places for travellers.

The council’s cabinet gave the green light for a cross-party group of councillors to look at ways of reducing the number of unauthorised encampments, writes Josh Wright of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

This was given despite its two Christchurch Independent members opposing the move over fears it would “bring issues to Christchurch that we don’t have”.

Across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole an average of 50 unauthorised encampments are reported each year which cost the council about £100,000 to manage.

A review of the council’s policies is being carried out by the cross-party working group which has already recommended a series of measures.

These include only “limited” work to install obstacles preventing access to spaces frequently targeted, providing alternative stopping places for travellers, and considering pre-emptive injunctions in ‘hot spot’ locations.

But concerns have been raised that providing permanent sites could create problems in areas less affected by the unauthorised encampments.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Christchurch Independent councillor Margaret Phipps, cabinet member for planning, said the council should consider other initiatives.

“Christchurch, historically, does not have a big problem with unauthorised encampments and they have been successfully managed when we have had them,” she said.

“I have heard it said that we hadn’t had a problem because there was a site in Dorset when we were part of the county council but that has only been in existence for a couple of years.

“In the last six years, Christchurch has had something like only 12 incursions – it is not very many – whereas Bournemouth and Poole have had a whole lot more.”

Cllr Phipps added: “I keep hearing it said that in the interest of fairness there should be stopping places across the whole area but this could be seen as bringing issues to Christchurch that we don’t have.”

Dorset County Council had a transit site since inherited by Dorset Council, which meant it could legally force unauthorised encampments to move on. However, BCP Council does not, meaning evictions are slower.

Despite the opposition of Cllr Phipps and her fellow Christchurch Independent, Cllr Lesley Dedman, the cabinet agreed the working group consider the measures, including new stopping places, before agreeing to any final approvals at a later date.

Cabinet member for the environment, Cllr Felicity Rice, said the council should not “pass off” work to look at ways of reducing the number of unauthorised encampments being set up in the area.

“This was a difficult piece of work and all of the recommendations were thought about incredibly deeply with the equivalent of 56 hours put into it,” she said.

“In years gone by this work has been shied away from but it’s incredibly important for many of our residents and the travelling community.”

As a result of the cabinet’s approval of the report, the working party will meet again to explore in more detail the feasibility of the measures it had put forward.

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