Blanket ban on camps proposed

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News release: 16 September 2019

Proposals for improving St Albans City and District Council’s response to unauthorised travellers’ camps have been put forward.

Dr Amie Birkhamshaw
One key recommendation is an investigation into whether it would be worthwhile to obtain an injunction banning the camps from Council land.

This could allow the Council to take immediate action to move on trespassers without the need for further court hearings.

Other suggested measures were installing barriers and ditches to protect land from incursions and improving communications with the public.

The proposals were agreed at a meeting of the Council’s Planning, Resources, Housing and Commercial Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 12 September.

Councillor Teresa Heritage, the Committee’s Chair, said: “This was a very thoughtful and balanced discussion about the difficulties the Council faces in dealing with unauthorised camps.

“We must respect the rights of travellers to enjoy their way of life and to move around the country to authorised sites that we and other Councils have set aside for them.

“However, the rights of farmers and other landowners along with residents also need to be upheld and that means taking appropriate action against unauthorised camps when do they occur.

“The Committee recognised that there is a feeling that we are slower than we could be to deal with such incursions. 

“Some Councils have obtained a blanket injunction which allows them to act almost immediately and we have recommended an investigation to see if we should do the same.

“We have also made a number of recommendations about improving communications with farmers and residents and we hope that these can be acted on.

“There have been five unauthorised encampments in the District this year and it’s important that when one happens that people are aware of who they can turn to for advice and what they can do.”

The Committee discussed a report that outlined the Council’s policies for dealing with incursions and how other local authorities operate.

It currently takes the Council an average of five days for legal procedures to be undertaken before enforcement action against unauthorised camps is completed.

Council officers first carry out a site visit and bailiffs then check on the welfare of the travellers before serving a direction to vacate.

If this is not complied with, an application is made to the Magistrates’ Court under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

Once a Magistrates’ order has been obtained, this is served on the travellers with bailiffs supervising the vacation of the site in the specified time frame.

The report said the Council’s procedures are similar to those adopted by the majority of local authorities.

However, some Councils – including Hertsmere – have obtained injunctions banning unauthorised camps from their land for a period of several years.

This means travellers can be moved on immediately without further court action being required. Those who refuse can be arrested and face prison or fines.

The Committee, having discussed the report, made their recommendations.

They agreed to ask Cabinet, the Council’s decision-making body, to investigate the potential of an injunction to protect its land as well as providing better perimeter security.

The Committee also asked Cabinet to improve communications with the public in the event of an unauthorised camp including a review of the Council’s website.

Among those who attended the meeting and contributed to the discussion were Carl Cheevers, Chief Executive of Harpenden Town Council; Inspector Andy Wiseman, Hertfordshire Constabulary; Dr Amie Birkhamshaw, Director of Strategy, Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner; Michael Donaldson, Hertfordshire County Council’s Gypsy Section; and Cathy Leahy, the Barnet and St Albans branch of the National Farmers Union.

Cllr Heritage said: “I thank all those representatives of other bodies who came along to the meeting and gave valuable input into these complex and challenging issues.”

Picture: Dr Amie Birkhamshaw addresses the meeting.

Councillor contact:
Cllr Teresa Heritage, Chair of the Planning, Resources, Housing and Commercial Scrutiny Committee, cllr.t.heritage@stalbans.gov.uk, 01727-761014.

Media contact: 
John McJannet, Principal Communications Officer, St Albans City and District Council: 01727-296130; john.mcjannet@stalbans.gov.uk.