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Traveller camp announcement

Home Secretary Sajid Javid is to consider whether to make it a criminal offence for travellers to set up camps on land they are trespassing on, instead of trespassing being defined in law as a civil matter. The authorities admit to ‘compelling evidence’ for stronger powers for the authorities to intervene.

This follows an initial consultation by the Government from April to June 2018, given complaints, by landowners and those living close by, to illegal camps; an historical problem. In a foreword to the Government’s response to the consultation, Brokenshire acknowledged ‘noise and anti-social behaviour, abusive and threatening behaviour, the occupation of public and private land, extensive litter and waste, and the costs of cleaning and protecting land’. The response document gave several council cases; Croydon for instance has had over 200 unauthorised settlements in the last three years, mostly on private land in the winter as family groups settle on firmer ground such as concrete; and parks and open spaces in summer.

Yet the number of caravans on authorised sites has increased from 14,498 in July 2010, to 19,569 in July 2018. The Government points out that councils and police already have ‘extensive’ powers; and it will provide new ‘good practice guidance’ to support local authorities use of powers to deal with unauthorised encampments. As for county court process, the Government admits that by the time a court has decided to act, an encampment may have moved on.

The Home Office acknowledged that the consultation response (the enormous, by consultation standards, total of 2198, mostly people blighted by camps) was clear on problems caused by travellers moving from place to place. Councils will be reminded of their obligation to provide enough “transit sites” to reduce the risk of communities seeing illegal sites set-up on their doorstep and to identify suitable sites, so problems are not shifted on.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) meanwhile has announced it will provide local authorities with practical and financial support to handle unauthorised encampments.

Sajid Javid said: “The vast majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens – but illegal sites often give an unfair, negative image of their community and cause distress and misery to those who live nearby. There is a widespread perception that the law does not apply to travellers and that is deeply troubling. The result of our initial consultation was clear – people want to see greater protection for local communities and for the police to be given greater power to crack down on trespassers.”

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said: “During our consultation, we have heard accounts of needless and unacceptable noise, abusive and threatening behaviour and extensive litter and waste from illegal traveller sites. Only a small minority of people are causing this distress, but it’s right that police are given extra powers to step in. We are committed to working with councils to help them deal with these challenging cases, while also ensuring travellers have good access to legal sites.”

MHCLG says it will give councils up to £1.5m of extra funding to help them enforce planning rules and tackle unauthorised sites, with funding also available under the £9 billion Affordable Homes Programme to help pay for legal pitches. MHCLG has given £250,000 to support projects working with Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities to tackle discrimination, improve integration, healthcare and education.

Ministers will consider making data available on where legal sites are so it is clear which authorities are not offering their fair share of traveller facilities. Under new guidance to be published, the Communities Secretary will step in and review cases where there are concerns raised there are too many authorised traveller sites in one location.
The Home Office will further consult on proposals to amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to:

lower the number of vehicles needed to be involved in an illegal camp before police can act from six to two;
give the police powers to direct travellers to sites in neighbouring council areas; they can only direct trespassers to sites in the same area;
allow officers to remove trespassers from camping on or beside a road;
increase the time – from three months to a year – during which travellers are not allowed to return to a site they have already been removed from.

Comment

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said the current system is failing everyone and change is long overdue. “I have been campaigning for tougher powers to tackle unauthorised encampments for some time. I have held summits and worked very closely with local MPs of all parties, in particular Pat McFadden, Steve McCabe and Richard Burden. I welcome the Government’s response and am pleased that they have listened to the West Midlands and plan to enact many of our proposals.

“Many of the recommendations we made in 2017 and 2018 have been taken on board, including the ability for police to direct unauthorised encampments to transit sites across local council boundaries and tougher powers to stop repeat trespass on business premises.

“I now urge the government to enact these proposals as soon as possible and to ensure that local councils have the necessary funding to manage this issue.”


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