The Executive Leader of Fareham Borough Council, Councillor Seán Woodward has written to the Prime Minister, David Cameron requesting the urgent need for legislation criminalising the offence of unauthorised encampments by gypsies and travellers.
Executive Leader of the Fareham Borough Council, Councillor Seán Woodward, said: "The letter follows recent incidents of unauthorised traveller and gypsy encampments on areas of Fareham Borough Council's land that have involved the Council taking proceedings for the eviction of the travellers/gypsies only to find that when moved they simply occupy another piece of land in the district. This causes disruption to local residents who may have events planned, for example on recreation grounds and frustration and concern in the way that such unauthorised encampments have to be dealt with. The process is costly, time consuming and in the eyes of the local community ineffective. The public also find such invasions threatening and intimidating and feel unable to go about their normal business on public land including children's playgrounds. We even had one recent incident where a cemetery was invaded with vans parked on graves to the huge distress of bereaved relatives."
The Council has adopted provisions of Section 77 and 78 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act and has used the powers very successfully on more than one occasion. The Police also have powers under Section 61 and Section 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.
Councillor Woodward continues: "The Council is fully aware that a criminal offence is committed if an unauthorised encampment fails to leave when the Police use section 61 or 62 and local authorities use section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. However the issue remains that the criminal offence occurs only when this action is instigated and those occupying the land fail to comply with directions under the legislation and not at the time when the land is initially invaded.
"Further this can also be costly both in terms of the action that is required to instigate these proceedings as well as any remedial works necessary to clean up and reinstate facilities and repair any damage that has taken place, as is the case with the majority of the encampments this Council has had to deal with. It can be a long and difficult process, entailing huge expense, to move people on."
In terms of dealing with unauthorised encampments experience has shown that the Council can make more effective use of the existing powers by using the County Court Civil Procedures under Section 55 of the County Court Rules by taking County Court "squatters" proceedings for the eviction of travellers. To date the Council has been successful in achieving the eviction of gypsies/travellers from Council-owned land because all the necessary procedures have been followed and welfare checks undertaken prior to any action being instigated. The success of this is down to the close co-operation between the Council's enforcement officers, the Council’s solicitors and the County Council's gypsy liaison officer, who undertakes all the necessary needs assessments on behalf of this Council.
The Council has on previous occasions written to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and more recently to the Secretary of State regarding this matter recommending that the problem of unauthorised encampments be made a criminal offence rather than being a civil matter.
At a meeting of Fareham's Council on 23 June 2011 it was resolved that a letter be sent to the Prime Minister, following a further invasion of the Council's land by gypsies and travellers to voice its frustration and again request that the our government progresses the introduction of legislation that would make such unauthorised trespass a criminal offence.
The Council is working with neighbouring local authorities to try to identify a suitable piece of land that could serve as a transit site or temporary stopping site that would then enable the police to use their additional powers to move unauthorised encampments on. However the scale of some encampments is such that temporary transit sites would not be able to accommodate some of the numbers involved as in this particular case.
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