Negotiation is key for East Cambs District Council as they unveil policy to tackle illegal traveller sites

PUBLISHED: 14:46 08 January 2016 | UPDATED: 14:51 08 January 2016

Police raid a travellers site in Cottenham in 2013.

Police raid a travellers site in Cottenham in 2013.

Archant

Gypsies and travellers who move onto illegal sites can expect to be "tolerated for a short time" says a directive from East Cambridgeshire District Council.

The Gypsy and Traveller Unauthorised Encampments Policy

There is currently no policy in place to deal with illegal sites, and the council has outlined a five-step process on how they plan to act on the discovery of an unauthorised site:

1. Informing officers and partners: The Housing Options Manager (HOM) is to send a notification email to Waste Enforcement and the County Council Traveller Liaison Officer before identifying who owns the land in question. If it is private land, the HOM will contact the land owner and the council will take no further action. However, if the land is owned by the council, a joint welfare visit to the site will be carried out.

2. Initial site visit: The site will be visited to assess the its condition, find out who is staying on the land and how long they intend to stay there, whilst also ensuring the welfare of those staying in the encampment – which includes pregnancy, ill health, educational needs, child and adult protection and animal welfare. Timescales for eviction will be outlined in line with County Council procedure.

3. Managing the encampment: The HOM will provide any updates to the public and partners on the site until it is vacated.

4. Eviction: Eviction will be carried out by the land owner or Cambridgeshire County Council.

5. Post UE actions: The HOM will arrange for a site inspection with the Waste Enforcement Officer on the day of vacation or whenever possible to assess any damage or fly tipping. A clean-up will then be arranged.

The council, that has one of Britain’s highest resident traveller populations, says its approach – formulated in a new policy - is in line with Government guidance.

“In east Cambridgeshire each unauthorised encampment is assessed individually and decisions are based on facts and circumstances,” says the new policy. It adds that “enforcement is taken as soon as practicable.”

Housing options manager Angela Parmenter will present the report to the regulatory and support services committee on January 11.

She says a new policy is needed to take account of the 2010 Equality Act and the 2004 Housing Act. It is also needed in the light of the Christian event last summer that attracted 200 travellers. The event saw police respond to complaints of anti-social behaviour after hundreds of travellers flocked to private land in Grunty Fen, Witchford.

Police raid at Cottenham travellers site in 2013.Police raid at Cottenham travellers site in 2013.

“The policy follows the controlled path officers took at the Witchford Christian event,” she says. “As members will know the co-ordination and action taken by officers at East Cambridgeshire District Council was widely applauded.”

Ms Parmenter says there has also been cases of individual caravans camped in fields or alongside roads and in both cases the council has a statutory duty of care. That means both for the welfare and needs of the travellers “alongside allaying any concerns from residents.”

She says the policy sets out how officers deal with unauthorised encampments and provides guidelines on the council’s position in relation to partner agencies and residents.

And, at the same time, she says “ensuring that the needs of the travelling community are met and that they have access to services.”

Police shut down an illegal travellers site in Cottenham in 2013.Police shut down an illegal travellers site in Cottenham in 2013.

Faced with an unauthorised encampment, the council will:

• Balance the rights and needs of gypsies and travellers with the local community

• Visit and assess the site

• Respond to queries and concerns from the public

• Carry out welfare checks

• Advise travellers and gypsies and of the acceptable code of behaviour

• Arrange swift clear up when they leave

Ms Parmenter says if travellers use private land without consent, it remains the owner’s responsibility to seek a court order to remove them.

She also says that such issues as provision of portable toilets lies with the land owner.

Site visits will determine the speed needed to remove an unauthorised site – particularly if it is near a busy road, near to a school, place of specialist interest or where “inhabitation causes genuine concern.”

She says: “Decisions about the speed of eviction will need to be made after the welfare checks are conducted.”

The policy document concludes: “Most gypsy and travellers who are in transit are doing so for a reason and sometimes that may be an addition to their cultural lifestyle, like being a carer, work opportunities, health needs or domestic fear.

“Careful consideration should be given to these factors. Good practice suggests that negotiation with the gypsies and travellers is the most cost effective, welfare orientated and community effective way of dealing with unauthorised encampments.”

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