More than £72,000 has been spent on the search for a location for Warrington’s future transit site for travellers – but a site is yet to be identified.
Hundreds of pieces of land have been assessed but none have been deemed to be deliverable by councillors so far.
It was intended that a shortlist would be finalised by January 2017 but the matter has faced major delays.
Around £2 million has been set aside in the Labour-run authority’s capital budget for the facility, which Town Hall bosses believe will reduce the number of costly unlawful encampments in the borough.
It would allow officers to direct groups to the land.
The planning for travellers task group was established in April 2013 and was refreshed in 2016 – with the membership of the group determined on an annual basis.
It has been discussing the sites that have been brought forward by officers.
But a Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service has revealed, since 2013-14, an estimated 189 council officer days have been spent on the search for a site, which is equivalent to 31.5 days per year on average.
Based on an average cost for the officers involved in this work, the council says these costs total approximately £37,900.
It also confirmed total consultancy fees spent on the project to date are £34,187. It brings the combined total to £72,087.
But council leader Cllr Russ Bowden (LAB – Birchwood) insists a designated transit site ‘is still the right answer’ for the borough.
He said: “This is such an important decision, we have to get it absolutely right in terms of what is the best option for an available and deliverable site.
“I am not prepared to cut corners on that – residents expect us to do the job properly.
“The case needs to be absolutely robust and watertight, it needs to be strong enough for public challenge and scrutiny.
“In terms of the costs so far, they are fully justified to ensure that we come to the right decision.”
Cllr Bowden also confirmed work continues in support of the task group, but was unable to confirm when a location could be selected and be recommended to the cabinet for approval.
However, the comments have sparked a response from Cllr Bob Barr (LD – Lymm North and Thelwall), leader of the town’s Liberal Democrats.
He says the time to make a decision on where to locate the site is ‘long overdue’.
“While I agree with Cllr Bowden that this decision must be made correctly and be watertight, it is not at all obvious that any new information to enable a decision to be taken is likely to be forthcoming,” he added.
“Two working groups have had extensive professional and officer support to explore literally hundreds of options over a period of at least four years.
“If the leader, or the cabinet, are not willing to take this decision because they fear the political fallout, perhaps they should put it to a full council meeting after briefing all members on the preferred site or sites.”