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Force signs traveller protocol with council to speed evictions


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Dudley Council and West Midlands Police have signed a joint agreement to tackle unauthorised traveller encampments.

Signed up: Dudley Council and West Midlands Police have agreed a protocol


Date - 15th July 2020
By - Chris Smith

A joint working protocol will make it quicker for Dudley Council and West Midlands Police to deal with illegal encampments on public land.

A long-standing issue has been the national shortage of authorised traveller sites so the council is pressing ahead with a new transit site to give courts a destination when moving travellers on from public land.

The new temporary transit site is expected to be up and running by August. The council will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the site.

The Managing Unauthorised Encampments Joint Protocol between the council and West Midlands Police will act as a guide to working together to best manage incursions with a co-ordinated response.

Under the agreement, members of an unauthorised encampment will be reminded of the option to relocate. Failure to comply could lead to enforcement actions, arrests, vehicles being seized and being banned from returning to the borough for three months.

Dudley council, which is currently spending around £150,000 a year on legal fees and clean-up costs, acted because neighbouring local authorities are also taking action. Sites already exist or are being set up in Sandwell, Wolverhampton and Walsall and Dudley did not want to become the focus of displaced encampments.

Cllr Laura Taylor, Dudley Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Communities and Residents’ welfare, explained why the council had taken action: “We have to make sure we do everything we can to minimise disruption for residents while exercising our increased powers in being able to move travellers to the new transit site.”

She added: “The transit site is very much a deterrent, and from our research into similar sites, we expect it to be very rarely used. What it does do is give us greater powers, along with our partners in the police, to move unauthorised encampments on quicker.”

Chief Superintendent Sally Bourner, Dudley Neighbourhood Policing Unit Commander, said the new arrangement balanced the rights of residents with those of the traveller community:

“Our work as a partnership in Dudley has resulted in a robust joint protocol to address unauthorised encampments. This strikes a balance between supporting both the settled and also the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in our borough.

“The use of the transit site will see a reduction in unauthorised camps in Dudley and provide support to travelling families, providing a consistent approach.”

In January 2019, 29% of Traveller caravans nationally were on public sites; 59% were on privately funded sites; 9% were in unauthorised developments on land owned by Travellers; and 3% were in unauthorised encampments on land not owned by Travellers. 

According to a House of Commons briefing, under current policy the government expects local authorities to formulate their own evidence base for Gypsy and Traveller needs and to provide their own targets relating to pitches required.

But councils, campaigners and Police and Crime Commissioners say central government should be deciding how many and the location of sites.

The All Party parliamentary Group for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma have criticised ministers for a “disproportionate” focus on enforcement powers rather than dealing with the shortage of sites.

Campaigners argue the cost of enforcement is due to “the abject failure of government to identify land for sites and stopping places”.

Surrey’s Police and Crime Commissioner David Munro called for more sites in April following a legal battle to move a group of travellers on from a recreation ground. Surrey has around 50 sites but all are private.

Mr Munro also called for a change the law to make setting up unauthorised traveller encampments a criminal offence.

Police forces are caught between the two sides in eviction disputes. Current advice from the National Police Chiefs’ Council is for officers to be “sensitive” to the shortage of authorised sites.

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