Updated: Saturday, 21st September 2019 @ 6:10am

My Big Fat Gypsy Clean-up! Cheshire East Council fear 'paperwork mountain' so don't keep track of six figure costs

My Big Fat Gypsy Clean-up! Cheshire East Council fear 'paperwork mountain' so don't keep track of six figure costs

Exclusive by Patrick Christys

Six figure sums of public money are potentially being spent on clearing up after gypsies or travellers in East Cheshire – yet the council has no idea how much and has no procedure in place to keep track of it.

There have been 11 separate travellers’ encampments in Wilmslow and Handforth Dean in the past 18 months.

Reports revealed that it cost Wilmslow High School more than £10,000 to clean up a school playing field after a group of travellers left in July.

MM asked Cheshire East Council how much it cost to clean the 11 encampments.

Helen Gough, Senior Compliance and Customer Relations Officer, said: “[The money spent] simply comes from the existing Streetscape and Bereavement Service budgets in a way that doesn’t identify the cost.”

In an attempt to get a specific figure MM contacted Gareth Edwards, who is the Streetscape and Bereavement Manager.

When asked why the cost of cleaning-up after gypsies was not recorded, Mr Edwards said: “It would create a mountain of paperwork and someone would have to do something about that.”

Any estimate as to the cost would be a ‘total guess’, according to Mr Edwards.

He explained that the total expenditure could be calculated by adding-up staff hours, transport costs and materials but said: “We don’t record the amount of hours spent cleaning travellers’ sites.”

Cheshire East Council’s overall expenditure for the last financial year on grounds maintenance was £2,160,586, and for street cleansing it was £2,549,848.

That covers all the day-to-day costs of maintaining a hygienic, clean area. Most of the standard costs come from cleaning-up after Cheshire East residents, especially after the weekend excesses. This money comes from taxpayers.

However, Wilmslow and Handforth Dean taxpayers are also footing the clean-up bill after travellers move on – and most travellers who are using unauthorised land do not pay taxes.

If Wilmslow High School’s expenditure of £10,000 is taken as an average, then MM estimate the cost for the 11 encampments over the past 18 months would be around £110,000. Given the scale of some encampments, that figure may well be higher.

Regardless of not knowing the specific figures, local residents have been baying for preventative action to be taken to stop the drain on public funds in the future.

Sam Walker, 34, of Haig Road, said: “The fact that the tax payer has to pay to clean up after them is just another drain on resources that needs to be rectified.”

Benjamin Jones, 24, of Thorngrove Road, Wilmslow, said: “Travellers upset the balance of our relaxed, ambient community and cause nothing but problems.

“No one in the community wants the gypsies there, so why are they there? The council is too scared to upset a minority.”

Sue Kelly, 56, of Fulshaw Park, said: “Whilst it would be very difficult and costly to put more security around some sites I think the travelers should be moved on quicker.

“The cost of cleaning up their mess comes out of tax-payers’ and rate-payers’ pockets which is unfair.”

Kerry Tarr, 22, of Lynton Lane, said: “It’s ridiculous how lenient our council is. There should be guidelines set in place for the police to use to move these gypsies on, not necessarily out the area but to a more convenient place. For example, not next to a high school or the town centre.”

Chris Giraud, of Donkey Lane in Alderley Edge, said: “Now gypsies seem to be moving in wherever they want. But they do have human rights so we can’t just do anything that we please.”

Tim Kingston, Community Warden Team Leader, liaises with the travelers when they encamp and explained that the volume of travelers in recent months has been ‘extraordinary’.

Mr Kingston said preventative measures to stop gypsy access to sites include height restrictions, bollards, lockable fences and gates. He did not know of any recent instances where these preventative measures had been taken.

Roy Mcguen, Customer Advisor for Cheshire East Council, speaking about the council’s action towards gypsies, said: “The majority of the time it’s reactive, there’s nothing really preventative.”

This claim was reinforced by Mr Kingston who says that he only deals with the traveling community after they have already arrived.

MM contacted Peter Hall, Head of Property Services, who asserted that he only assessed the security of some sites after the gypsies have left and said that the job of enforcing preventative measures fell onto many different branches of the council.

In total MM contacted the following departments:  Assets, Leisure, Culture and Tourism, Parks and Open Spaces, Community Wardens, Property Services, and Streetscape and Bereavement Management.

None said that the job of enforcing security for regular gypsy sites was their responsibility. None of them knew whose responsibility it was.  

Picture courtesy of Oliver Quinlan, with thanks.

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