Travellers and the law
There are up to 100 unauthorised encampments in South Gloucestershire each year.
The number of Travellers has been consistent over many years and reflects our closeness to major routes and the traditional links of travelling families with this area. The high level of economic activity, particularly construction-related is also a draw to self-employed traders. There is a national shortage of sites for Travellers which is well acknowledged to be the case in South Gloucestershire also. The council runs two authorised permanent sites that are oversubscribed. There are no transit or emergency sites in South Gloucestershire.
Unless an unauthorised encampment poses an immediate danger, government guidance on how to deal with these encampments should be followed. There is recognition by the government that the provision of accommodation to Travellers in the UK is insufficient. In particular, although large numbers of people move around the country every year, there is little transit accommodation. Because of this councils are expected to tolerate encampments unless there is authorised accommodation available or a particular encampment becomes unacceptable through its impact on the local community. Any incidents of crime are addressed in the same way on sites as they would be anywhere else. However, if there is proven crime associated with a particular encampment, the entire encampment may be moved without attributing it to specific individuals.
When the encampment is over the private landowner is responsible for the clean-up, or if on council land we are responsible for the clean-up. The government recommends the provision of disposal facilities on sites. This is impractical for the majority of sites that are in place for only a few days. It is also cheaper to do one clean-up when the site is vacated. Although the Environment Agency can be notified of fly-tipping, the sites are usually in place for too short a time for enforcement procedures to be implemented.
Encampments on council-controlled and council-owned land
- the council has responsibility for the management of unauthorised encampments on its own land. This includes any action to remove the encampment
- except in cases of immediate danger councils are not permitted to remove encampments immediately. Councils must balance duties owed to the public and the welfare needs of the unauthorised encampment. Unlike a private landowner who merely has to prove ownership of the land to be granted possession, the council must show that it has taken account of all its legislative and common law duties to those involved and balanced them reasonably
- each encampment is visited and assessed within 48 hours and frequently afterwards
- information and advice is given to interested parties and detailed records compiled of actions and decisions taken
- each encampment is dealt with individually to ensure that legal duties are met, resources used appropriately and the needs and rights of everyone involved balanced
While the encampment is in place
- it will be visited daily where possible. Issues and incidents raised by the public will be investigated and resolved where it is possible. Callers will be responded to within 24 hours if possible. There is a continuous assessment to monitor events and to ensure the council acts with tolerance in line with the government’s best practice guidelines
- in practice, after the initial assessment, negotiations begin immediately to limit the length of stay. The majority of encampments on council land remain in place for less than a week. To date the council has not been able to identify any suitable locations for transit sites and it follows that encampments are usually in locations that are less than suitable
Encampments on private land
Action to remove trespassers and to deal with any environmental nuisance arising from unauthorised encampments on private land is primarily the responsibility of the landowner.
- the council and the police will offer landowners information and advice
- the Traveller unit at the council acts as a one-stop shop for the public and will pass on information but the landowner will start any action relating to removal
- action open to landowners includes taking repossession through the civil court or asking the police to use powers under section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 to remove unauthorised encampments. It can be used where there is serious or continuing crime, threatening, abusive, insulting or violent behaviour or serious disruption to everyday activities. The police power is discretionary and does not impose a duty. Its use is subject to Home Office guidelines