To scrutinise the Council’s policy and procedures relating to unauthorised traveller encampments.
The Committee considered a presentation, set out at Agenda pages 15 to 23, which gave details of the Council’s policy and procedures relating to unauthorised traveller encampments.
Simon Price, Assistant Director, Housing, Income and Assessments, attended the meeting to give the presentation and answer Member questions.
An unauthorised encampment arose when any person camped (in vans, trailers, tents or any other moveable accommodation) on land that they did not own, and where they did not have permission to reside.
The presentation stated that the Council had signed up to the Thames Valley Police protocol for dealing with encampments in May 2018. The Council’s Executive had also approved an updated policy on encampments at its meeting in March 2018. The updated policy had enabled Officers to use common law powers in dealing with unlawful encampments. This entailed the use of bailiffs rather than the courts. The use of common law powers resulted in reduced legal costs and reduced costs relating to the clearance of sites.
The presentation gave details of performance data relating to unauthorised encampments, as follows:
· Number of encampments;
· Average number of days to clear encampments;
· Number of encampments on public and private land;
· Number of encampments cleared with and without Section 61 (police) powers.
In 2019/20 (to date) there had been 25 unauthorised encampments across the Borough. Of these, 12 were on public land and 13 were on private land. The cost to WBC of clearing the encampments on public land was £1,449. Dealing with the encampments took 165 hours of police officer time and 155 hours of WBC officer time.
In the ensuing discussion, Members raised the following points:
One issue relating to the Council’s clearance of sites was the fact that travellers could then move a short distance on to private land. What advice and support did the Council provide for private landowners? Simon Price commented that the Council provided advice to private landowners but had no jurisdiction. It was a matter for private landowners to protect their own land.
Was the Council considering best practice from other local authorities? Simon commented that the Council did seek to learn from elsewhere but it was important to remember that the service was delivered with limited resources.
Ken Miall referred to an incident when Sheriffs were used to move travellers on. What was the difference between using Sheriffs and bailiffs? Simon undertook to discuss this case with Ken outside the meeting.
Guy Grandison asked about the percentage of traveller encampments which involved medical/welfare issues. Simon undertook to provide information on the number of encampments involving medical/bereavement cases.
Did the Council have any special arrangements with Town and Parish Councils? Simon commented that WBC held regular discussions with the Town and Parish Councils. However, there were ongoing issues around enforcement when the land was not WBC-owned.
The Council had taken out an injunction which prohibited unauthorised encampments at Cantley Park. What factors were involved? Simon stated that Cantley Park was earmarked as an emergency morgue in case of major incidents. This fact had supported the granting of the injunction. The Council had explored the potential for a Borough-wide injunction, but this was not successful. Simon was happy to share the legal advice relating to the attempted Borough-wide injunction.
Had the Council considered the development of a transit traveller site in the Borough? Simon stated that discussions had been held with lead Members, but there was no political appetite for such a site at present. In the meantime, the Council was looking to create three additional pitches at the Carters Hill site.
In relation to the unauthorised encampments in 2019/20, how many were repeat incursions on the same site? Simon stated that a report had been submitted to the Community Safety Partnership with this information. Simon was happy to circulate this report to Members.
Did the Council provide written advice/leaflets for Town and Parish Councils and private landowners? Simon agreed to explore the potential for information leaflets and improved information on the WBC website.
In addition to the points made, Members felt that the Council should seek to develop a more holistic approach, learning from best practice and providing effective guidance to local stakeholders. The Council should also consider any implications for the Local Plan Update.
Susan Parsonage undertook to raise the issues raised with the other Berkshire Chief Executives as part of her regular discussions.
Andy Croy suggested that a Member training session be arranged to provide an update on the latest developments and guidance on the Council’s procedures for dealing with unauthorised encampments.
1) Simon Price be thanked for the presentation on unauthorised traveller encampments;
2) Simon Price provide a further update to the Committee in June 2020 including feedback on the points raised by Members;
3) the additional information requested by Members be circulated to the Committee;
4) Susan Parsonage discuss the issues raised by Members with the other Berkshire Chief Executives;
5) Simon Price consider the development of an information/guidance leaflet for residents and Town and Parish Councils;
6) a Member training session be arranged to provide an update on the Council’s policies and procedures.