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Paper 10 - 30 November 2001Meeting

    Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Authorities 

  30 November 2001 

  Approach to Gypsy and Traveller Encampments in Hampshire 

  Report of the Chief Executive, Hampshire County Council   

 Contact:  Ian Parker   Tel: 01962 847269   e-mail: ian.parker@hants.gov.uk  

1

 Introduction

 

 

 

 

1.1

This report seeks agreement for negotiations to be held between the Councils of HIOWLA aimed at improving the management of unauthorised Gypsy and Traveller encampments in Hampshire.

 

 

 

 

1.2

To date there have been initial meetings of City and District Council officers to explore how the problems arising from unauthorised encampments should be tackled in the South East of Hampshire.

 

 

 

 

1.3

It is recommended that the County Council should work with all the District and City Councils and Hampshire Constabulary to achieve a more co-ordinated response across Hampshire to unauthorised encampments on public land, including highways.

 

 

 

 

1.4

The subject of this report was also considered by the County Council`s Policy and Resources Policy Review Committee at its meeting on the 19 November and from which recommendations will shortly be made to the Leader as Executive Member Policy and Resources.

 

 

 

 

2

Background

 

 

 

 

2.1

Gypsies, and more recently other types of Traveller, have been living a nomadic way of life in Hampshire for several centuries. Traditionally, this involved small groups of families with horse drawn caravans but now involves large numbers of caravans and a wide range of motor vehicles.  This greater mobility, together with improvements in communications such as the use of mobile phones, has led to faster assembly of larger congregations of caravans camping on both publicly and privately owned land, normally without the owner`s permission.

 

 

 

 

3

Unauthorised Encampments in Hampshire

 

 

 

 

3.1

Over the last five years or so there has been a change in the pattern of travel within the County.  Increasingly large extended family groups have congregated which has created problems for the local community in which they camp.  Recent examples include encampments of 65 caravans at the former Knowle Hospital site Wickham, 35 caravans at Lady Betty`s Drive, Whiteley and 33 caravans on playing fields at Wicor. This pattern of large encampments has been encouraged this year by the exceptionally wet weather and the restrictions due to the Foot and Mouth epidemic which have led to the stopping up of small areas of land and highway traditionally used for small scale and short term encampments. Also the ready availability of mechanised equipment has contributed to increased breaching of defences and deterrents installed by landowners to prevent encampments.

 

 

 

 

3.2

Appendix A provides counts of unauthorised encampments for each Council area in Hampshire taken at set times throughout the last year.

 

 

 

 

4

The Role of Local Authorities

 

 

 

 

4.1

Local authorities no longer have a duty to provide permanent gypsy sites following the repeal of the Caravan Sites Act, 1968.  However, when seeking to repossess Council owned land used for unauthorised camping the local authorities have a duty to investigate the welfare and educational needs of encampments on their land as set out in the guidance issued by the Home Office and DETR in 1998. A full and informative `needs assessment` is required of the circumstances regarding the encampment in support of any subsequent application to the courts to recover vacant possession. Failure to comply with these procedures and wider statutory obligations, may result in a challenge to the Council`s decision-making process and a prolonged court appeal with the result that the unauthorised encampment may remain at least for the duration of the appeal. 

 

 

 

 

4.2

The County Council manages four permanent residential gypsy sites at Star Hill (near Hartley Wintney), Penny Hill, (near Yateley), Tynefield (near Whiteley) and Bury Brickfields (Eling). Southampton City Council manage a former County Council site at Kanes Hill. A further site at Peak Copse, Dummer (to the south east of Basingstoke) has been temporarily closed since October 1996 following disturbances amongst the families living on the site and proposals for its future use are due to be presented to County Council members.

 

 

 

 

4.3

The County Education Officer provides two Education Welfare Officers and three Teacher Advisors who liaise with the Gypsy and Traveller families and provide support in the provision of education in order that children may be provided with appropriate educational opportunities whilst they are resident in Hampshire.

 

 

 

 

4.4

The permanent sites were provided as part of the County Council`s response to the requirements of the Caravan Sites Act, 1968 which placed a duty on local authorities to accommodate all those defined as “persons of a nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin and who were residing in or resorting to Hampshire”.

 

 

 

 

4.5

The Act provided for the establishment of Caravan Sites by local authorities as a means of controlling unauthorised occupation of land. Once a local authority was deemed to have sufficient pitches it could apply to become `designated` by the Secretary of State.  The effect of designation was to make it a criminal offence for any Gypsy to station a caravan for the purpose of residing within the designated area.

 

 

 

 

4.6

However, in the 25 years after the introduction of the Caravan Sites Act in 1968, there was a trebling of the number of Gypsy families, due to the children of families continuing the nomadic lifestyle. The provision of permanent sites failed to keep pace with this increase in Gypsy numbers.

 

 

4.7

Whilst the 1968 Act was intended to enable Gypsies to move around using the sites provided by local authorities, many have settled permanently on local authority pitches and 90% of local authority pitches in England and Wales are occupied permanently. Significantly, many of these families pay for their permanent pitches but choose to go `on the road` during the summer, negating the benefits of the Council`s provision of permanent pitches throughout this period.

 

 

4.8

Major changes have occurred in the patterns of employment of Gypsies and Travellers in the last 20-30 years. The traditional handicrafts, knife sharpening and seasonal agricultural work have all but disappeared and have been replaced by tree lopping, tarmacing and the installation of domestic double glazing.

 

 

4.9

With the increased ownership of motor vehicles, the patterns of movement have changed with Gypsies and Travellers now tending to move over longer distances but to remain in and work from one base for longer periods generating a requirement for domestic and business waste on far greater scales. Additionally, Gypsy families congregate for holidays and visits to shows and events such as Steam Fairs, horse racing and horse sales. 

 

 

4.10

In response to the failure of local authorities to provide sufficient sites under the 1968 Act to meet the increasing levels of unauthorised camping, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was introduced in 1994.

 

 

4.11

The changing nature of encampments and the nuisance caused through tipping, noise, lack of sanitary facilities and in some cases by intimidation by Travellers and their animals, has led to increased levels of complaints by local residents and landowners. Also some of the encampments involve criminal offences against which action is taken as a matter of course by Hampshire Constabulary.

 

 

4.12

Experience with the County Council`s permanent sites has been that some transfers to traditional housing or privately owned gypsy sites have occurred at approximately 15% turnover per annum.

 

 

5

Gypsy Liaison Services

 

 

5.1

In addition to securing vacant possession of County Council land and managing the four permanent sites, the County Council`s Liaison Officers provide information and advice to District Councils and to residents and companies affected by unauthorised encampments.

 

 

5.2

Where possible vacant possession of County Council land is achieved by negotiation but it is necessary to invoke court action for approximately 10% of the cases of unauthorised camping.

 

 

5.3

With the repeal of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, 1994 and through evolving case law, the obligations on local authorities have changed from the provision of a range of permanent and temporary gypsy sites to the management of unauthorised camping. The District Councils in Hampshire have increasingly sought advice from the County Council`s Gypsy Liaison Officers on their handling of such unauthorised encampments, particularly in the preparation of the educational and welfare assessments required if the judicial system is to be used to successfully secure repossession of publicly owned land.

 

 

5.4

The requirements of the judicial process are now more demanding in terms of site investigation and therefore specific procedures need to be followed as a requirement of the judicial system both in terms of private and public repossession action.

 

 

6

Monitoring

 

 

6.1

The figures in Appendix A show the number of Gypsy families in each City and District Council areas at 5 dates in the last year.  These effectively represent `snapshots` in time and do not reflect movements into and out of the county or between sites in the intervening period.  Often one group may remain in a District for months and only move to alternative sites when evicted.  Fareham Borough Council evicted the same group of 10 caravans, seven times during 2000 with the resulting cost and disturbance to local residents.  So far this year the same family group has been evicted twelve times from publicly owned land by Hampshire County Council and Fareham Borough Council.

 

 

6.2

The congregation of large numbers of caravans has led to increased demands by local residents for repossession to be achieved immediately, irrespective of the due procedures required by statute and case law. The average time taken to secure vacant possession is 7 working days even if immediate action is taken at each step in the process which any local authority is required to take.

 

 

7

Council Owned Permanent Gypsy Sites

 

 

7.1

The geographical location of the 5 operational council owned sites are shown in Appendix B.

 

 

7.2

On-site residential management is provided at each of the sites with the exception of Star Hill which is managed in conjunction with the nearby Penny Hill site.  Each of the sites has in the region of 20 serviced caravan pitches which comprise individual hard standings and utility blocks providing toilet and laundry facilities. Most of the sites are also provided with a children`s play area.

 

 

7.3

The County and City Councils provide educational and welfare services through its officers who visit the sites on a regular basis and make arrangements for schooling to be provided at local schools (often requiring special needs assistance due to disrupted patterns of attendance) and also health care services, particularly for the young and elderly.

 

 

8

Short Stay Facilities

 

 

8.1

Concerns have been raised by several District Councils across the County regarding the lack of short stay or temporary facilities and the difficulties that the lack of alternative sites has caused when trying to clear large encampments.

 

 

8.2

Discussions have been held at an officer level with Fareham, Gosport and Havant Borough Councils and Portsmouth and Winchester City Councils to explore an alternative solution to the present pattern of repeated occupation and re-occupation of sites. The alternatives under investigation include the provision of tolerated short stay locations in each District to be used for short periods during times of high activity when Gypsies and Travellers will be directed to the local sites. 

 

 

8.3

Currently the absence of short stay sites encourages illegal occupation of publicly owned land leading to the unwelcome behaviour of fly tipping, sanitary problems and high clean up costs.

 

 

8.4

The cost of cleaning up after large encampments is substantial and averages over £2,000 per site.

 

 

Recommendations

 

 

 

 

 

That:

 

 

 

 

1

HIOWLA should be the forum for an initiative between the County, City and District Councils and Hampshire Constabulary to achieve improvements in the future management of unauthorised encampments across Hampshire

 

 

 

 

2

The initial meetings be co-ordinated by County Council officers

 

 

 

 

3

The outcome be reported back to the respective Members/Review Committees of the individual Councils with a view to formal agreement being reached through HIOWLA to improve future management of unauthorised encampments in Hampshire.

 

 

 

 

APPENDIX A

RECORDED GYPSY CARAVAN NUMBERS ON  UNAUTHORISED SITES IN HAMPSHIRE  

 

2000

2001

 

DISTRICT COUNCIL AREA

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

*

Jun

Jul

Nov

Basingstoke and Deane

 12

 

  5

 

10

 

17

 

 

 

 7

0

East Hampshire

 0

 

  4

 

  3

 

25

 

 

 

20

1

Eastleigh 

 7

 

  0

 

  1

 

  0

 

 

 

14

7

Fareham 

 0

 

  9

 

  0

 

  0

 

 

 

  0

0

Gosport 

 5

 

  0

 

  0

 

  0

 

 

 

  5

0

Hart 

 10

 

  0

 

  0

 

10

 

 

 

  0

1

Havant 

20

 

  0

 

12

 

  0

 

 

 

  3

5

New Forest 

  3

 

  4

 

  1

 

  0

 

 

 

  0

3

Portsmouth City Council

0

 

  3

 

3

 

8

 

 

 

 17

0

Rushmoor 

 0

 

  0

 

12

 

  0

 

 

 

  0

0

SouthamptonCity Council 

0

 

  0

 

0

 

0

 

 

 

0

0

Test Valley 

25

 

12

 

10

 

 13

 

 

 

 11

7

Winchester 

 0

 

  0

 

  4

 

   3

 

           

 

   0

3

TOTAL  

82

 

37

 

56

 

 72

 

 

 

 77

27

  Notes:

*Figures for May 2001 not recorded due to staff commitments on resolving unauthorised encampments

**The figures quoted include both publicly and privately owned land in Hampshire.

Last update: 23/11/2001
Author: Nick Goulder, Policy Manager

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