News release from 15/06/2018

Council calls on Government to set up independent commission to provide national solution on unauthorised Gypsy and Traveller encampments

Councillors in South Cambridgeshire are calling on the Government to set up an independent commission to explore the best way to meet the needs of Gypsies and Travellers who move around the country.

The call, from South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Cabinet members, follows a Government consultation which closes today (Friday 15 June) that focuses on what changes councils believe are needed to resolve costly enforcement issues when caravans are encamped without permission.

The Council has said in their response to Government that enforcement alone is not the answer as it does not provide a place for Gypsies and Travellers who need to move around the country for activities such as work, or to visit relatives who may be unwell in hospital.

The Council’s Housing Portfolio Holder has said that a national initiative is needed to provide short term temporary stopping places for Gypsies and Travellers in every area of the country so people who need to move around can do so without their only viable option being parking up at the side of the road.

Councillors say that without a national scheme to provide temporary stopping places up and down the country, and in locations that both the settled and travelling community believe will work, it will not be as effective.

The Council has reiterated today its commitment to continue to work with landowners, Cambridgeshire County Council, the Police and Parish Councils to tackle unauthorised encampments in local communities using the full range of the current powers available.

The Council’s response says that across the whole of Cambridgeshire during a one-year period up until the end of March 2018, 200 cases of illegal encampments were reported to the Council and 99 needed bailiffs to carry out evictions.

Each eviction cost on average just over £1,000. Evictions are paid for by the landowner which is not normally the District Council.

In South Cambridgeshire, the District Council says that it is normal that a small number of groups visit, park up without authorisation and are moved on by landowners. The groups visit for a short period and then leave the area. This is a situation reflected in many parts of the Country.

The Council has also said that existing powers of enforcement are slow and cumbersome and do not discourage repeat encampments.

Council officers are also unable to effectively confirm identities of those setting up unauthorised encampments to provide evidence to the standard that is acceptable by courts. The Police do have these powers, but Government cuts to resource means they no longer have the officers to do the work as they need to focus on higher priorities.

Across South Cambridgeshire there have been many illegal encampments this spring and summer, which follows the same pattern as last year. The encampments have been on sports pitches and recreation grounds in some cases, which has meant local people have not been able to fully enjoy areas provided for recreation.

Cllr Hazel Smith, Cabinet Member for Housing on South Cambridgeshire District Council, said: "The fact is that Gypsies and Travellers travel around the country and that is part of their way of life. We have a choice here either just to look at short term fixes or to change the law in a way that will provide a solution into the future. A full review is needed with the aim of having a joined up national approach to providing stopping places as well as powers so people can be moved on more quickly when parked up without authorisation. This is not a South Cambridgeshire matter, this is a national debate that Government needs to take the lead on.

“When we talk to most Traveller families who come to the area we find out that they are only here for a short time as they have an unwell relative at a local hospital, or are attending a family celebration. They then move on. They don’t really want to be at the roadside, and villagers in communities across the district do not want them to be there either. Let’s resolve this rather than just look to increase enforcement.

“In South Cambridgeshire we investigate nearly around 600 enforcement cases each year and the vast majority only involve the settled community. We take the same approach to them all."

The Government consultation can be found by visiting: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/powers-for-dealing-with-unauthorised-development-and-encampments