'We have as much right to be here as anybody' say Traveller groups as number in Havering rises
PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 July 2018
Traveller groups have blasted the "draconian" police measures they often face as a new report shows the number of traveller incursions in Havering has risen by almost a quarter.
Newly-released data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government shows that, in January, there were 137 Gypsy, Roma and Traveller caravans in Havering, an increase of 22pc since 2015.
While the vast majority of the caravans in Havering were situated on authorised sites, two caravans were on sites which did not have the required planning permission to set up an encampment.
All of the unauthorised sites were declared to be tolerated by local authorities, meaning no active efforts were being made to move them on.
Not tolerated sites include those where a planning enforcement notice has been served, or where an injunction has been sought against the encampment.
Jim Davies, from the Traveller Movement, called on the Government to support local authorities in finding more authorised sites for Traveller communities.
He said: “It is clear that the UK has a Gypsy and Traveller population that has as much right to be here as the rest of society and this population is not going to ‘go away’ with more police powers and draconian measures aimed at moving them on.
“The vast majority of Gypsies and Travellers on sites are on authorised ones. For those that aren’t, there are clear and simple solutions to allow the Gypsy way of life as dictated by UN law and to promote harmony between different ethnic groups.
“The government should focus on supporting local authorities to build more authorised sites and stopping places, and to allow Gypsies and Travellers who want sites on their own land equitable access to the planning system.”
Of the 135 authorised caravan sites in Havering, 26 were on sites for which permanent planning permission had been granted, and 109 had temporary planning permission.
Across England, nearly 3,000 Traveller caravans were on unauthorised sites in January. The total number of Traveller caravans in England has increased steadily over recent years - there were nearly 23,000 in January, an increase of more than 5,000 over a decade.
Local authorities in Leeds have recently trialled a system of ‘negotiated stopping’, which has been hailed as a success by Traveller groups. It involves the council negotiating a code of conduct with the Travellers and Gypsies living on roadside camps, and providing water, waste disposal and portable toilets until the Travellers move on at an agreed date and time.
It is estimated to have saved the council thousands of pounds in legal fees.
But Simon Blackburn of the Local Government Association said that local authorities have a duty to uphold the law when illegal encampments are set up.
He said: “Councils are committed to ensuring that their local communities are safe, inclusive and welcoming. They also know that the vast majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens and often contribute much to the communities they stay in.
“However, when encampments are clearly breaching the law and causing concern and inconvenience to communities, local authorities have a duty to take action to ensure the law is upheld, which they do working alongside the police and the court system.
“With local authorities facing a shortfall of over £5 billion by 2020, councils can ill-afford to have to recover the significant costs of removing illegal encampments and the associated clean-up costs. There are also instances of some encampments continuing for prolonged periods of time which can have a significant impact on local communities, with councils and private landowners often incurring costs from evicting trespassers.”