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Residents demand action over illegal traveller camps in Sutton
The council is under increasing pressure to tackle the growing issue of traveller camps, as frustrated residents threaten to take the situation into their own hands.
After an escalation of traveller activity in the borough in recent weeks, travellers have set up camps on the St Helier open space opposite St Helier Hospital, Roundshaw Park in Wallington, Seears Park in Cheam, and most recently on the site of the Felnex industrial estate, set for a multi-million pound redevelopment in Hackbridge.
To remove the camps, which can sometimes be 20 caravans-strong, it costs the taxpayer thousands of pounds every year and can take weeks.
Residents are demanding the council finds a better solution to stop the regular illegal incursions on to the borough’s green spaces.
The council has previously admitted some measures to prevent travellers getting on to the borough’s open spaces are failing, stating deterrents including locked gates and mounds of earth have not stopped illegal camps being set up around the borough.
This month, the Department for Communities and Local Government reiterated rules that allow councils to apply to the courts for a pre-emptive injunction to stop travellers returning to the same sites over again.
The council has not yet commented directly on whether it will using the injunctions but said it was “as sick and tired as everyone else” with the illegal incursions, and was exploring legal action with neighbouring councils.
For the past year, those living on Wallington’s Roundshaw estate said they have had to put with a group of travellers taking over their park at least once a month, leaving a trail of destruction.
Residents of the estate, home to Paralympic legend David Weir, claim not only do the groups leave vast piles of rubbish, but their caravan tyre tracks cut up the grass and leave the football pitches unplayable.
One resident, who did not want to be named, said they have had enough.
She said: “We are sick and tired of the council doing nothing to stop them, and now there are people who want to take the law into their own hands and confront them. Antisocial behaviour goes up when they are around, which could be a coincidence, but I doubt it.
“Whenever we complain to the council they say it is too expensive to do anything, but that is not good enough.
“We should have a number to call as soon as they arrive so they can be moved on straight away.”
Councillor Ruth Dombey, leader of Sutton Council said: “These are illegal incursions and we are just as sick and tired as everyone else by this continual flouting of the law.
"In these financially difficult times it is criminal that we have to use taxpayers’ money to deal with the incursions, manage the removal of the intruders and then clear up afterwards.
“We are working closely with Croydon and Merton Councils to explore what legal action we can take to prevent these illegal incursions.”
Joseph Jones, Gypsy Council chairman, said it is down to the local authority to do more to help the gypsy traveller community, as essentially they are homeless.
He said: “Authorities need to open a dialogue with the travelling community.
“They are victims, as much as residents who see strangers arrive in their parks are victims. Councils need to house them.”
A Freedom Of Information request last year found that between 2010 and 2012, Sutton Council spent more than £20,000 on removing travellers from unauthorised sites.
The council was unable to provide up-to-date figures on costs when asked this week.
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