Cracking down on illegal traveller sites

With Appleby Horse Fair less than a month away, I know many communities in the constituency will be wondering what the annual trek of travelling folk to the event in Cumbria might mean for them.

While the traditional horse-drawn bow-topped, gaily painted caravans are an attractive sight on the roads in the weeks running up to the fair, illegal traveller sites of motorised trailers and vans can be a terrible nuisance

Here I am talking both about the usually very temporary ones associated with people travelling to the fair but also unauthorised encampments that potentially could become more permanent and are sometimes created without any planning consent.

A recent Government review and consultation on the matter unearthed numerous horror stories of needless and unacceptable noise, abusive and threatening behaviour and extensive litter and waste left behind when the travellers move on.

There is a widespread perception that the law does not apply to travellers and that is deeply troubling. I know communities can often feel powerless when faced with instances when the travellers’ arrival – a bloody-minded minority it must be said - brings with it a very unwelcome burst of anti-social behaviour.

People want to see greater protection for local communities and for the police to be given greater power to crack down on trespassers.

Now two Government departments – including mine – have announced a series of draft measures which will do just that.

These robust measures will make it easier for police officers to intervene and remove travellers from land they should not be on.

The Home Secretary will also consider making it a criminal offence to set up such camps. It is currently defined in law as trespassing, a civil matter.

In addition, my Ministry – for Housing, Communities and Local Government – will provide local authorities with practical and financial support ­– £1.5m – to handle unauthorised encampments.

The Home Office will also consult on proposals to amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to:

  • lower the number of vehicles needed to be involved in an illegal camp before police can act from six to two;
  • give the police powers to direct travellers to sites in neighbouring local authorities. Currently they can only direct trespassers to sites in the same area;
  • allow officers to remove trespassers from camping on or beside a road;
  • increase the time - from three months to a year - during which travellers are not allowed to return to a site they have already been removed from.

In making these pledges, both the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, and my departmental colleague, James Brokenshire, made it clear that only a minority of travellers are causing the problems I have outlined. The vast majority of the travelling community are decent law-abiding people and we must ensure that there are legal transit sites available for travellers.

The Government has also given £200,000 to support projects working with Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities to tackle discrimination, improve integration, healthcare and education.

I am confident that the Government's action will help to reduce the number of illegal caravan sites across the country, while respecting people's right to a nomadic way of life.