Travellers pay just £500 for £30,000 sewage system installed on illegal camp site

After hundreds of travellers invaded a field and illegally built homes there, public anger swelled when it emerged the local authority would be installing sewage facilities at the site.

The council defended the move by saying it was obliged to carry out the work to safeguard public health but it would claw back every penny from the travellers.

Nearly two years on, however, just £519 has been recovered from the £13,165 spent - around four per cent of the total - and the only person to have faced any action over the fiasco was a councillor who criticised the project.

Smithy Fen travellers site in Cottenham

Notorious: Just £519 has been paid back by travellers for sewage works on the Smithy Fen site in Cottenham, despite hundreds illegally building homes there

In a further twist, the council has now admitted it might write off the debt at the notorious Smithy Fen site in Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, as it may be too expensive to recover the money.

Independent councillor Deb Roberts, who was investigated by the Standards Board for England for being 'too heated' in her condemnation of the scheme, today attacked the Conservative-run council's handling of the situation.

'Why are we not pursuing these people?' she said.

'I was told just a handful of people are paying. Seven are paying £2 a week and are all on housing benefit, which is being paid by the taxpayer.

'What about the other 30 plot holders? They have done nothing. They realise South Cambridgeshire District Council will not get them to pay.

'What message does this send out to other travellers that are paying their bills?'

Smithy Fen travellers site

Twist: South Cambridgeshire District Council has said it may have to write off the debt after only seven plot holders agreed to pay £2 a week towards the costs

Smithy Fen has existed for around 40 years and was home to around 30 families.

It only came to national attention in 2003 when 800 predominantly Irish travellers flooded into the area and the 11-acre site swiftly expanded to a 20-acre settlement without planning permission.

Homeowners in the area complained of intimidation and threats, thefts, having vehicles driven at them and faeces and other objects being thrown into their gardens.

Three years ago it emerged the council had spent close to £1million unsuccessfully trying to evict the travellers.

It was in January 2008 that the council started installing the sewage system.

Cllr Deb Roberts who has spoken out against £13,000 sewage works installed at Smithy Fen traveller site

Censured: Councillor Deb Roberts was reported to the Standards Board of England for criticising the installation of the sewage works

Bills for £355.83 were hand-delivered to 28 plot holders when the work was completed in October that year.  Demands were not issued to nine other plots as the owners could not be identified.

Since then just seven have agreed to make payments at a rate of £2 a week - which means it will take nearly three-and-a-half years to clear the debt without interest.

Cllr Roberts was reported to the Standards Board for England early last year when she told a council officer that the travellers should be left to 'stew in their own s**t'.

The case was referred to a local hearings panel in April to investigate whether she had breached the council's code of practice by failing to treat others with respect.

She denied the 'outrageous' allegation but in the end was censured, meaning she had to admit wrongdoing but no further action was taken.

She added: 'What about other members of the public that get into arrears with their council tax and are taken before the magistrates?

'I've had people who have tried to pay their bills but have had a nasty letter from the council with a court date.

'South Cambridgeshire Council only pursued the person who had the temerity to ask if this money was going to be paid.'

The TaxPayers' Alliance also criticised the council.

Political director Susie Squire said: 'The council should work harder to recoup this cost.

'In future, travellers must reimburse the council for infrastructure upgrades in advance, otherwise there will be a repeat of this shambolic situation.'

The council said it had to carry out the work to prevent the risk to public health from raw sewage.

A spokesman added: 'People who refuse to pay could be sent to county court.

'But, if the costs of recovery outweigh the amount owed, the council would write off the debt.'

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