DISHING out more powers to local authorities is not the answer to dealing with illegal traveller sites, a council chief has said.

Figures show councils across Oxfordshire have had to pay more than £10,000 over recent months to obtain court orders and clear sites due to car parks and fields being repeatedly occupied.

Oxford Mail:

Pic. Josh Stone

The latest is at Bicester Park and Ride after dozens of caravans arrived yesterday, after appearing to move from Water Eaton Park and Ride.

Reader Josh Stone sent this image, and said the caravans are causing 'a lack of available parking' with only a handful of free spaces left.

But traveller groups say they have no choice if council's continue to under provide land for authorised sites.

Yesterday, housing minister Dominic Raab announced a government consultation into what can be done to tackle the 'significant distress' caused by these sites.

But Oxford City Council board member for planning and regulatory services Alex Hollingsworth said the problem does not lie with the council's powers but with the courts.

He said: "We have to use trespass laws by going through the courts to get a hearing, and get an eviction order.

"With that, it takes so long to get a court date - in both cases with the city council recently it has taken weeks despite having the papers ready to go within 48 hours. Taking action once we have the order is always quite quick.

"It isn't powers that is the problem, it is a crucial issue with court capacity."

Mr Hollingsworth said the delay in court dates, due to a lack of funding, has a knock-on effect of higher clean up fees and disruption.

Oxford City Council revealed it has paid out about £2,500 removing travellers from Redbridge Park and Ride and £4,573 in relation to the Peartree Park and Ride.

Oxfordshire County Council has also said evicting a group from the Water Eaton Park and Ride in February racked up a bill of just over £3,000. This included £2,160 in court fees and £845 clean-up costs after the group's three-week stay.

The knock-on effect has include a number of parking spaces being blocked from use, car parks being closed and in one instance Oxford United Academy was forced to cancel a training session when horses, thought to belong to nearby travellers, had taken over the site.

Oxford Bus company has also had services disrupted.

Managing director Phil Southall said: "Whilst we haven't had to cancel any services at any stage, we have had some occasional access issues at park and ride sites.

"Anything that disrupts our services and inconveniences our customers is regrettable, so we hope the relevant authorities are given the powers they require to resolve any issues in the future."

Oxfordshire County Council head of community protection services Richard Webb added: "We’re very interested to learn more about these ideas for new powers for councils and the police and once we’ve studied the detail we’ll respond to central Government.

"We have had well documented problems in Oxfordshire in recent times and extra powers to bring about speedier resolutions would have been very welcome.

"As ever we will work in partnership with the districts, city and Thames Valley Police on this issue.

"We welcome this engagement from central government to deal with the small percentage of illegal encampments that are set up each year and reducing the burden of enforcement costs on local authorities and private landlords."

But The Friends, Families and Travellers group - which works on behalf of travellers to protect their right to pursue a nomadic way of life - has said the focus should be on finding more land for travellers to live.

The group's projects manager Michelle Gavin said: "We absolutely condemn the minister’s decision to review powers to deal with unauthorised caravan sites. The vast majority of gypsies and travellers who are living on unauthorised land are not doing this because they want to."

She added: "In large, gypsy and traveller families are living on unauthorised land because there is a chronic national shortage of Traveller sites. Local authorities are responsible for identifying land for gypsy and traveller communities to live on, but the vast majority of local authorities are completely failing to fulfil this duty."

The group say, without enough authorised sites, a push for greater eviction powers will just mean more families are evicted, and move to another unauthorised site - resulting in a waste of public money and more homeless traveller families.

There are six permanent council-owned sites in Oxfordshire, providing 89 pitches. There are also 21 privately run sites.

The creation of new sites comes under each district council in the area.

Oxford City Council has said as part of the draft local plan for up to 2036 and includes an assessment for more authorised sites in the city. These plans will be subject to public consultation later this year.