THERE’S little doubt that travellers setting up camp on private land, at the side of the road or on a council car park is a source of consternation for the resident community.

But as unauthorised traveller camps spring up around the town (a quick search of the Warrington Guardian’s website will show just how many) it is clear there’s a great deal of misunderstanding about the law as it applies to travellers.

This is a subject I’ve touched on before but I think it stands repeating. The fact is that gypsies and travellers are protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010, together with all ethnic groups who have a particular culture, language and values.

And that is the basic starting point that all councils, including Warrington, have to apply, no matter how problematic local residents may view unauthorised camps.

It’s true that if the travellers are causing problems, councils will seek to move them on ‘as soon as is reasonable’ but each case is treated on its merits. Councils cannot force gypsies and travellers to move immediately because it has to show the travellers are on land without consent and the council is also under obligation to make enquiries regarding the general health and welfare of the travellers.

Even then, the council does not have the power to evict travellers without serving notices and following due processes in the courts to gain the authority to order them to leave the site

But courts can refuse to grant an eviction order if there is an ‘unavoidable reason’ for them to stay on the site or if the court thinks not enough enquiries regarding general health and welfare of the travellers have been made.

If travellers setting up camp on council land is a problem, camping on private land without the landowner's permission is even more problematic. Frankly, the landowner is on his or her own.

One of the options is to take proceedings in the County Court to try to get an eviction order.

Or a landowner could decide to do nothing about it. Government advice is that when gypsies and travellers are not causing a problem, ‘a site may be tolerated’. But here’s a great example of Catch 22. If a landowner decides to let them stay on their land temporarily they could be in breach of the planning laws.

Talk about a no-win situation.

But the question I would ask is does Warrington have a particular problem with travellers which is entirely of its own making?

The fact is Warrington does not have an official transit camp for travellers, despite it being on the agenda for more years than I care to remember. As early as 2015, Warrington Borough Council set money aside to create a traveller transit site and earmarked a total of £2million.

Back in 2021, the town’s Liberal Democrats questioned why there hadn’t been any progress in setting up a transit site, saying: “A task group to identify appropriate sites was formed in 2016. This group assessed many sites throughout Warrington but none of them was deemed deliverable for a number of reasons. In 2019 the Warrington Guardian ascertained, through a Freedom of Information request, that more than £72,000 had already been spent on this process.

“By continuing to push this sensitive issue into the long-grass, could it be that the Labour majority is afraid of losing seats [at the forthcoming election] if the transit site ends up in one of their held wards?

“Traveller’s transit sites are generally well managed, close to motorways and do not cause any problems for local settled communities. Could it be that political expediency comes before doing the right thing?

That seems a reasonable question to ask. So what is the council’s current stance?

Well, a council spokesman quoted in the Warrington Guardian said: “We are fully committed to the delivery of a suitable transit site within the town and recognise the benefits for both the travelling community and our residents.

“We are continuing to work with our partners to identify a suitable traveller transit site in the borough.”

Oh come on, you’ve been ‘working with partners’ since 2015. It’s time for some action, and not just words