The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, recently issued new guidance to councils explaining how they can use their legal powers to remove illegal travellers, protected camps and squatters from public and private land.
It is hoped that this more determined stance might offer some relief to landowners and property developers who suffer the blight of stubborn travellers on theirs or neighbouring council land.
Why has the Guidance been Issued?
The guidance is designed to help give local residents support in challenging their local authority to take action against illegal camps.
Currently local authorities have the power to issue ‘stop notices’ which are temporary notices to remove unauthorised caravans, pre-emptive injunctions that protect vulnerable land in advance, possession orders to remove trespassers from land and unlimited fines.
Do Local Authority Actions Make a Difference?
The Department for Communities and Local Government claims that without action the number of illegal caravan sites would almost double from 2,400 in 2010 to 4,500 by 2015.
This guidance, therefore, will be seen as a boon to both landowners and developers as travellers can have a negative effect on their commercial interests if travellers decide to take up residence on their land or on neighbouring council property.
The move is specifically designed to help councils take action straight away to stop illegal camps starting in the first place. It is hoped that decisive action early on will prevent cases like Dale farm.
The Dale Farm Debacle
Dale farm was the notorious and high profile forcible clearance of the UK’s biggest traveller site which had been set up on the green belt in Crays Hill, Essex. This though was only after a 10 year legal fight and required Basildon Council to mobilise around 300 police and bailiffs to clear the site.
The Dale Farm clearance is estimated to have cost £7 million.
Tackling traveller sites immediately should save councils both time and money and help local people and businesses.
Political Will to Uphold the Law
Although what has been issued is just guidance and does not give local councils or people any new powers, Mr Pickles believes that the current law is sufficient and that councils merely need the ‘political will’ to uphold the law.
The department has also revoked Labour's Equality and Diversity in Planning guidance, which Mr Pickles claims told councils not to take enforcement action against unauthorised travellers, and suggested planning rules should be applied differently to individuals depending on their background. This may have been because Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are legally recognised as ethnic groups and protected from discrimination by the Race Relations Act. Any action specifically designed to target them could have been perceived as discrimination.
It is easier for private landlords to evict illegal travellers than councils as the courts require public bodies, like local councils, to carry out needs and welfare audits to discover if any allowances should be made.
The new guidance should make it easier for local residents to evict illegal travellers on council land as they have to consider the guidance they have been issued. Any council which does not consider this guidance will be subject to judicial review, but hopefully that will not prove necessary. Landowners and developers requiring assistance to deal with illegal travellers should contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.