Across the Country, our green and open spaces have been blighted this summer by the nuisance that is Unauthorised Traveller Encampments. It’s time to strengthen the law to stop these encampments appearing in the first place, toughen up the punishment for those that so flagrantly break the law, and ensure that Government and Local Authorities come together with the Police and the travelling community to find an approach that works for everyone.
Sadly, it feels as though Unauthorised Encampments are now part and parcel of summer life on so many of our open spaces. In their trail is a mass of mess and waste; garden, household, industrial, and even at times human waste. Too often this is coupled with an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour, and increased tension within our communities. This has been the case across the West Midlands repeatedly over the last few years but it is now becoming more widespread. In my Constituency of Aldridge-Brownhills it is common for these camps to consist of more than 50 Caravans and vehicles. Many of these are luxury caravans and cars that so many hard-working families can only dream of affording.
No longer is this the roaming workforce of yesteryear, travelling from town to town to find work and pay their way. These are large groups of travellers who arrive for months on end on an all encompassing tour. The right to lead a travelling lifestyle is an important one, and must be respected, but the travelling community whom are very fond of reminding us of those rights; must begin to learn that with rights come responsibilities. No single community should ever be above the law and the right to lead a travelling lifestyle should not equal the right to break the law.
In Parliament, we often talk of the importance of community cohesion, but so often when faced with the situation of Unauthorised Encampments we are focussing on the cohesion of the traveller community at the expense of the local settled population. Local Authorities do try and act, but most of the time their actions are not quick enough. Whilst this is not always the fault of the Local Authority the legal processes are sometimes too cumbersome and add to the heightened tensions in local communities as residents are left in a state of limbo.
The travelling community often understand the law and the hoops that councils must jump through before being able to move an encampment on. Each Encampment follows a similar pattern. Before being evicted by court order, the encampment simply moves to another site, where it sets up another camp whilst the council are forced to start the process again. Just before the council serve their order the encampment packs up and moves on only for the same process to repeat itself, often just a few yards down the road in the same borough. All too often it becomes a game of cat and mouse, which comes at great cost to all hard-pressed taxpayers, this has to come to an end, enough is enough.
Unauthorised Encampments are a countrywide issue and we need to find a better approach to tackle these repeated incursions. It’s time for Local Councils to work closer with the police and develop a new strategy and I am hoping that by pressing for Parliamentary time to debate these issues this week that the Government consider whether changes in the law are needed to help swing the pendulum back towards the settled population of residents who are now at breaking point.
This Article was provided to the Express and Star and was first published on Friday 6 October 2017