TRAVELLERS who set up camp at recreation grounds, playing fields and car parks across Oxfordshire last year cost the taxpayer more than £100,000 in clean-up and legal bills, the Oxford Mail can reveal.

New figures from local councils have shown that groups towing caravans took over public spaces no less than 60 times in 2018 – nearly double the 33 in 2017 – leaving a trail of waste behind.

The spike was largely down to one group with about 60 vehicles who ran rings around local authorities to take over council-owned sites at least 14 times.

Oxford Mail:

Read again: Disgusting waste left at Oxford playing field after travellers move on

Councils have now vowed to stand up against the menaces who intimidate the public and drain the public purse, but also called for government help.

The new figures were compiled by Cherwell District Council which, with 28 unauthorised encampments last year, was one of the worse-hit authorities.

The council's assistant director for environmental health Richard Webb said in a report that the one 'large group' took over a number of Oxford car parks – including two park-and-rides in Cherwell district – mainly between December 2017 and April last year.

In one case this included some 50 caravans taking over Water Eaton Park and Ride near Kidlington.

Mr Webb said: "This group of travellers occupied 14 locations and, on average, contained around 35 caravans and 25 vehicles.

"Each location occupied was high-profile and resulted in a loss of amenity for the local community. For example, we estimated the loss of income from a car park for a single day the group was camped in that car park to be more than £500.

Oxford Mail:

"The response to this group required the investment of time and funds from three different local authorities, the police, Chiltern Railways and two private land owners. This group has recently returned and reoccupied the park and ride car parks around Oxford."

Mr Webb added that despite this, most traveller families do not cause many problems and encampments in the area in recent years have often been short.

Last year, however, that one council was forced to fork out £60,000 for clean-up and court courts.

Oxfordshire County Council reported legal costs for evicting travellers at various county sites in the past year to be £38,560 – almost £38,000 more than the £569 bill in 2017.

Read again: Travellers forced to move on by police as one group leaves the county

The encampments listed by the county council for last year included at least 16 in Oxford, 12 sites in West Oxfordshire, three in South Oxfordshire and two in the Vale of White Horse district.

Oxford City Council confirmed 11 of these were on its car parks, parks or open spaces four occasions at Peartree Park and Ride.

Elsewhere Blackbird Leys leisure centre car park was invaded eight times, but the longest stint of six days was at Sandy Lane recreation ground.

Oxford City Council estimated the clean-up costs for 2018 to be approximately £15,608.

Oxford Mail:

Spokesman Tom Jennings said the authority had 'installed significant measures' to secure park-and-rides across Oxford, including height barriers around entrances and concrete blocks to reinforce fencing.

He went on: "Recent incursions have involved breaking into our park and rides via neighbouring fields, so we have also worked with neighbouring land owners to improve security.

"We use bylaws to conclude most incursions on our parks within 48 hours, but we need the Government to speed up the legal process to deal with incursions at our park and rides."

The persistent problems with travellers in Oxfordshire has been partly put down to the M40 and A34 providing easy stop-off points for groups travelling through.

Read also: Scales of Justice - latest results from Oxfordshire's courts

County council spokesman Chris Dyson said 'a lot of work' was going into defending its park and rides in order to stop the incursions.

He said: "We are working ever-closer with the district council legal departments.

"Work has taken place with the parishes and town councils as encampments also pop up on their land.

"Oxfordshire will always be a potential stopping off point for travellers due to the nature of the main transit routes through the county; such as the M40, A34 and A41."

In Cherwell, consideration is being made to consult residents on potential sites for temporary and permanent traveller sites as part of the Local Plan review.