WATCH: Priti Patel vows to end illegal traveller camps on visit to Dudley
Priti Patel has vowed to end the "misery" that illegal traveller camps cause to communities across the Black Country.
On a visit to Dudley, the Home Secretary said the next Tory government will bring in tough new measures to clamp down on unauthorised traveller encampments, which have blighted parts of the region in recent years.
She is planning to give police powers to arrest travellers who set up illegal sites on private or public land, with a string of measures that she says put the interests of taxpayers' first.
WATCH: Priti Patel at Woodside Park
At the moment trespass is considered a civil matter, meaning police and councils rely on High Court injunctions to move travellers on. As a result travellers can be camped illegally for days at a time, while land owners often face long and costly legal battles to remove illegal camps.
Ms Patel visited Woodside Park, Netherton, one of a number of sites in Dudley which has huge concrete bollards fitted around it in a bid to stop travellers from setting up camp.
She told the Express & Star: "We want to bring an end to the misery that unauthorised encampments bring to communities across Dudley and the West Midlands.
"When you look around this great park, where families with children come here to spend time, there is nothing worse than seeing unauthorised encampmants, caravans, vehicles, setting up on open park space and then really ruining the local amenity through their conduct, through the rubbish they leave behind and through their behaviour, which has repercussions for the local community."
Ms Patel is consulting on measures including reducing the number of vehicles needed before police can act from six to two, giving officers powers to seize vehicles, and to direct offenders to official transit sites in neighbouring authorities.
She suggested taxpayers had been given a rough deal due to the current law being weighted in favour of travellers.
She said: "We should be treated everybody fairy and evenly. That's what the public expects. they are council tax payers and they want their voice to be heard on issues of this nature.
"It costs the public purse a lot of money to clear up sites. That money could be better spent elsewhere."
During her visit Ms Patel was joined by Dudley Tory candidates Marco Longhi and Mike Wood, as well as local councillors and Conservative PCC candidate Jay Singh Sohal.
Mr Longhi, who is aiming to take Dudley North for the Tories for the first time, said: "Illegal camps mean that local people cannot use their parks anymore, and then there is a huge cost for local authorities to clean up the mess that is left behind.
"People in Dudley have had to put up with a lot, so it is great that the Home Secretary is looking at this now."
Mr Wood, who is bidding to retain Dudley South, said the measures would "help protect green spaces" and save councils a fortune in clean up costs and legal fees.
"It is common sense and is going down really well with voters in Dudley South," he added.
Labour has published a paper on land ownership which strengthens the rights of travellers to set up camps on private and public land.