I welcome the recent announcement that there will be a consultation on government proposals to amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to deal with challenges communities can face with unauthorised encampments. This shows the importance being given to this issue in government.
We know unauthorised encampments can cause communities significant distress and also perpetuate a negative perception of the travelling community. Action is needed to address the intimidation that residents can feel when an unauthorised encampment occurs; as well as the frustration at not being able to access amenities, public land and business premises; and the waste and subsequent cost once the encampment has moved on.
Last summer, parts of our community faced challenges with unauthorised encampments. Thankfully, both the police and council dealt with the situation efficiently and effectively. Further to this widespread practice, I am pleased that representations from myself and other colleagues whose communities have also been blighted, has led to the Government giving more powers to assist in dealing with the situation.
The proposals include increasing the period of time in which trespassers directed from land would be unable to return and lowering the number of vehicles needing to be involved in an unauthorised encampment before police powers can be exercised from 6 or more to 2 or more. The Home Office is also conducting a review to consider criminalising the act of trespassing when setting up an encampment. This could act as an effective deterrent to such activity in the future.
There will be additional support for local authority enforcement activities. This will include further work to ensure measures are in place to address issues around the clean-up costs which can follow an unauthorised encampment. It is important that funding received by local authorities is spent on providing services to local residents, not clearing up waste from unauthorised encampments.
It is also right that action is being taken that will help maintain confidence and fairness in the planning system. Traveller communities must abide by the same rules that the settled community has to follow. In this regard, the policy on intentional unauthorised development will be strengthened.
While action is taken to tackle unauthorised encampments, it is right that we support law abiding Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Part of this is ensuring that more authorised sites are provided. The New Homes Bonus is being used for this purpose and crucially, it is working. The number of caravans on authorised sites has increased from 14,498 in July 2010 to 19,569 in July 2018.
Unauthorised encampments are an emotive subject. They cause concern for local residents and do harm to the perception of Traveller communities. Tackling such encampments is clearly on the Government’s agenda and I hope we will not see a repeat of the disruption we saw across parts of our community last summer.