A leading Allerdale councillor has accused the authority of dragging its heels in tackling unauthorised travellers’ camps.

Alan Smith, the former Labour leader of the borough council, said the new administration had ignored all the work his executive did to create a travellers’ site in Workington.

His comments came after unauthorised camps had appeared outside Allerdale House.

He said: “We earmarked a travellers’ site and put it in the local plan.

“We arranged for our officers to go out and look at best practice, everything was in place so that if we got back into the council in May, the first thing we would have done was to sort this out.

“Nine months down the line and they say they’re looking into it.”

But the current leader of the independent-Tory council, Marion Fitzgerald, said her predecessors “kicked this issue into the long grass”.She said: “I would like to point out that the previous administration kicked this issue into the long grass for many years.

“There is provision within the Allerdale Local Plan to allocate a site for the gypsy and traveller community.

“Now that the plan has been determined ‘sound’ by the planning inspector, the council can adopt it and begin working towards implementation. I am taking steps to establish communication with the travelling community to discuss this.

“Obviously our members will benefit from looking at existing sites elsewhere to better understand how they are operated and managed. There may have been similar visits in the past but these were not carried out by the members whose responsibility it will be to start implementing the policy.”

The council reviews this type of need and demand studies every five years. The last study was carried out in 2013 and visits to other sites were made in 2016.

A council spokesman said: “Regarding general policy, the council has a responsibility to assess the housing need and demand and identify suitable sites to meet that identified need. A site for gypsies and travellers has been identified in the Allerdale Local Plan (part two) which has been ‘found sound’ by the Planning Inspectorate, however, no decision has been taken on the building of such a site.

“The council is embarking on a Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA) to identify the current need and is due to start the process in the spring. We are also refreshing the Gypsy and Traveller Protocol with various partners and we very much want to work with representatives from the gypsy and traveller community on this so we can take effective action to address the issue in the short and long-term.

“A team from the council will also be visiting gypsy and traveller sites in the north east next month as part of a fact-finding exercise in order to help shape our plans going forward.”