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NPCC and APCC call for more official traveller camps


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'Do not grant us more power, just give gypsies and travellers somewhere to go' say police chiefs and PCCs.

PCC David Munro
PCC David Munro

The root cause of conflict between travellers and settled communities is an acute shortage of authorised encampments, police chiefs and PCCs said in an official response to a government consultation.

In April Housing Minister Dominic Raab launched a consultation into unauthorised travellers’ encampments in response to “long standing concerns” about the issue.

Last year a House of Commons debate heard current powers are failing to contain trespassing on private and public land, damage to properties, antisocial behaviour and huge clean-up costs to landowners.

The joint Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government consultation asks for views on whether a new law needs to be created, powers that could be extended, how court processes can be improved and whether there are any barriers to creating authorised travellers’ sites.

But the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) joint response to the consultation rejected proposals for extra police powers and said the solution is to provide more places where travellers and gypsies can legally camp.

“On a national level we would say the key issue to address in respect of GRT communities is the lack of accommodation for them.

“The shortage of suitable sites for families to live on and access as they move around the country leads to groups setting up unauthorised encampments and developments, thus creating the biggest single source of conflict between the Travelling and settled communities,” the document said.

They raised concerns many gypsies and travellers are being denied the opportunity to move into permanent housing because of regulations. The document said travellers who can afford to buy their own land are often evicted because they cannot obtain planning permission. In 2015 changes to planning policy defined gypsies, travellers and travelling showpeople as only those who travel permanently.  

It effectively mean that no-one will be assessed for a pitch unless they travel – meaning some people travel just to meet the planning definition.

The document said: “The police are not in the business of providing accommodation but this is such a crucial issue for the Gypsy and Traveller community that encouraging its provision has become part of the NPCC focus.

“Without accommodation of whatever description, access to health, education and all 'social' services that most people take for granted becomes difficult or impossible. The lack of sufficient and appropriate accommodation for gypsies and travellers remains the main cause of incidents of unauthorised encampment and unauthorised development by these groups.

“Sustainable solutions to traveller site and community cohesion issues are needed to ensure adequate provision of authorised traveller sites in line with a robust assessment of need.

“If that were combined with the effective management of unauthorised encampments and a greater development of community cohesion and social inclusion initiatives in local areas experiencing tensions between traveller and other groups, real progress could be made.”

The NPCC and APCC do not support the creation of a new criminal offence of “intentional trespass” or criminalising encampments as they believe trespassers would have no incentive to leave peacefully.

“There are many occasions when police and local authority powers are used to move groups of gypsies and travellers from land when the circumstances have justified it,” the report said.  

“Ultimately all this does is simply relocate rather than permanently solve accommodation problems, indeed it often moves the encampment to an even more unsuitable location than the one occupied previously.”

The response praised the Irish approach to travellers which is to provide accommodation as needed making unauthorised encampments the exception.

In turn local authorities take a firm stance to illegal encampments as there “is no need for people to find themselves in that position thanks to the extensive accommodation provision and assistance that is readily available.”

Between July 2010 and July 2017 the number of traveller caravans on legal sites rose by 32 per cent (from 14,498 to 19,071) according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Traveller Caravan Count. But the 2017 data showed 16 per cent (around 3,700) of all caravans are on unauthorised encampments.

APCC Equalities, Diversity and Human Rights lead, PCC David Munro said: “We welcome the government’s decision to consult on unauthorised encampments, as it gave us an opportunity to give views on the important issues of police powers, community relations and how we work with local authorities.

“It is clear to us that there is an urgent need to significantly increase the number of permanent and transit gypsy, Roma, traveller sites. Unfortunately, existing planning legislation has proved inadequate to implement this and needs therefore to be strengthened in order to direct local planning authorities to make greater provision.”

NPCC lead for gypsy, Roma and traveller issues, Acting Chief Constable Janette McCormick, said: “Police forces deal with any criminality arising from unauthorised encampments in an impartial and even-handed way, acting proportionately as they do for any other issue.

“It is the widespread view of forces and PCCs that, in general, police and local authorities have sufficient powers under existing legislation to deal with the issue and no major changes in the criminal law are required.

“However, we believe there is merit in the government and local authorities further examining solutions such as negotiated stopping and similar good practices, as well as ensuring the Environment Agency is sufficiently equipped to administer the recovery of costs in clearing up unauthorised encampments where appropriate.”

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