Although strengthened police powers offer the potential to help tackle unauthorised encampments, in isolation they are unlikely to solve the problems caused by them, since tackling unauthorised encampments requires a multi-agency response and the resources to support this.
- It is clear that unauthorised encampments are an issue that can cause significant distress and inconvenience to local communities, as well as substantial costs to the statutory authorities trying to resolve the problems caused. However not all councils have experienced issues with unauthorised encampments or have experienced significant problems where they have occurred. To inform this work, there is a need for better data on the number and scale of unauthorised encampments being established.
- Responses to the Government’s 2018 consultation on this issue highlighted the sense of unease and intimidation residents feel when an unauthorised encampment occurs, the frustration at not being able to access amenities, public land and business premises, and the waste and cost that is left once the encampment has moved on. There was a clear call for the Government to take action to improve enforcement against unauthorised encampments, and it is therefore positive that the Government is consulting on proposals to strengthen police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments.
- Although strengthened police powers offer the potential to help tackle unauthorised encampments, in isolation they are unlikely to solve the problems caused by them, since tackling unauthorised encampments requires a multi-agency response and the resources to support this.
- While the LGA in principle welcomes the proposal to strengthen police powers, we believe that effectively tackling unauthorised encampments requires that the powers available to the police are matched by a willingness to use them, and that councils and the police are financially supported to deal with unauthorised encampments.
- Alongside this, there is a need to consider how the court process might be improved to strengthen the effect of current enforcement powers. The effectiveness of local authorities’ enforcement powers can be weakened by the time taken by the courts to respond to requests for action, since by the time a court has decided to act, the encampment may have moved on. It would be helpful to understand how the Government’s plans to modernise the courts and tribunals system may help with the unauthorised encampments process.
- To support the use of both existing and any new powers, it is also important that Government moves quickly to bring forward the good practice guidance it has committed to produce to support councils to deal with unauthorised encampments, building on the range of best practice work that is already taking place. This should include a focus on developing a collaborative approach involving members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community to help to resolve some unauthorised encampments issues, which should be the first course of action wherever possible.
- Any reforms to enforcement powers should also accompany wider measures which help and support local authorities to deal with this important issue. The issue of unauthorised encampments is closely linked to the provision of traveller sites, and there is a need for additional financial investment for local authorities to support traveller site provision. We also urge Government to clarify the definition of traveller in the planning policy for traveller sites, to help provide consistency for local areas.
- Finally, we would emphasise that councils are committed to ensuring that their local communities are safe, inclusive and welcoming, and note that the vast majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens and often contribute much to the communities they stay in. It is positive to see the Government’s commitment to publish a new national strategy to tackle entrenched inequality and improve the lives of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, and we urge the Government to take forward the strategy work alongside its work to strengthen powers to tackle unauthorised encampments. We will continue to work with the Government on this important issue.