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Paper 8 - 28 March 2003 Meeting

ASSOCIATION OF HAMPSHIRE AND ISLE OF WIGHT LOCAL AUTHORITIES

28 March 2003

MANAGING UNAUTHORISED GYPSY ENCAMPMENTS IN HAMPSHIRE

Report by the Joint Local Authorities Gypsy and Traveller Panel

RECOMMENDATIONS

The members of HIOW are invited to:

(1) Endorse the work of the Joint Authorities Gypsy and Traveller Panel to date and support its work to bring forward proposals to set up short stay/emergency gypsy sites in Hampshire;

(2) Ensure that appropriate provision is made in Local Plan Reviews and the forthcoming Local Development Frameworks to enable short stay/emergency stopping places to be provided in order to safeguard the councils` abilities to deal with unauthorised encampments on their land;

(3) Authorise contact with adjoining local authorities through the Government Office for the South East with a view to achieving consistency on at least a sub-regional basis;

(4) Agree that the attached letter should be sent on behalf of the Association to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister setting out the Associationís concerns over the impracticalities of proposed changes in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act which will create severe difficulties for Councils in their ability to manage unauthorised encampments on public land as well as creating an additional revenue burden on the local authorities; and

(5) Thank Councillor Mrs June Fulcher of Havant Borough Council for her contribution to this challenging issue through her chairmanship of the Joint Authorities Gypsy and Traveller Panel.

INTRODUCTION

1. This report sets out issues affecting each local authority in Hampshire in the management of unauthorised gypsy encampments, describes the work carried out by the Joint Local Authorities Gypsy and Traveller Panel and proposes actions to be taken by individual Councils and the Panel.

BACKGROUND

2. Unauthorised encampments by Gypsies have been occurring on land in Hampshire for several centuries with patterns of occupation which have reflected the availability of temporary and seasonal employment.

3. Local authorities have been involved in attempts to manage unauthorised camping for many years and under the Caravan Sites Act 1968 until its repeal in 1994, had a statutory duty to provide sites for Gypsy families.

4. This led to permanent sites being provided across the County of which 4 are now operated by the County Council and another by Southampton City Council. These have broadly met the demand for permanent accommodation for Gypsy families who `resort or reside in Hampshire`.

5. The following services are currently provided for Gypsies and Travellers by local authorities in Hampshire: The County Council employs Gypsy Liaison Officers and Education Welfare Officers to manage gypsy sites and to provide liaison services and other support for Gypsy families. The Unitary and District Councils make their own management arrangements for their land and provided services through their Housing and Environmental Health Departments.

6. However, in recent years the patterns of behaviour have changed markedly with Gypsy families being increasingly involved with other forms of employment such as tree lopping and tarmacking in place of agricultural employment.

7. With the availability of motor vehicles and other equipment for use in their trade, the families have been able to gain physical access to potential camping areas. Gypsies now travel further distances to gatherings and sources of work and consequently stay in specific areas for longer periods. The availability of improved communications, notably the use of mobile telephones, has led to larger groups accumulating within much shorter periods of time and this has led to major problems of management and cost to local authorities in Hampshire in recent years.

LEVELS OF UNAUTHORISED ENCAMPMENTS IN HAMPSHIRE

8. Information on gypsy and traveller movements is collected by the County Council in co-operation with District and City Councils and is used to compile six monthly statistics supplied to Central Government.

9. Unauthorised camping has traditionally tended to peak in the summer months with an average of 200-250 caravans stopping on unauthorised sites in Hampshire.

10. However, during the last two winters, there has been an influx of Gypsies from the Republic of Ireland who have congregated in larger groups, stayed throughout the winter periods and appear to rely on differing sources of income than the seasonal work of indigenous Gypsy families.

11. These Gypsies have congregated in groups as large as 60 caravans and the encampments are often accompanied by damage to property on entry, damage to surrounding areas and almost always a requirement on the land owner, whether public or private, to clean up after possession has been regained.

12. These large encampments have led to considerable tensions with the adjoining settled communities and businesses which have led to repeated expressions of frustration and concern including dissatisfaction with the time which local authorities appear to require to regain possession of the land.

13. Members are asked to note that the number of Gypsies visiting Hampshire from outside of the United Kingdom may well increase with the planned extension of the European Community membership. Several of the countries which are due to join have large Gypsy populations, who like those from the Republic of Ireland may find the prospect of employment in Hampshire and other parts of England, attractive.

14. Unlike other landowners, local authorities have additional obligations placed on them which include those from Human Rights legislation and case law which is relevant in their attempts to repossess land. Unlike private landowners, local authorities have a duty to assess the humanitarian and social needs of any unauthorised occupants of its land which makes encampments on local authority land more attractive than occupying privately-owned land.

15. The cost of securing evictions of Gypsies involved with repeated cases of unauthorised occupation and re-occupation, led to several Councils in the South East of the County working together with the County Council and Hampshire Police to improve their management of unauthorised encampments.

16. This was reported to the HIOW meeting in November 2001 and all of the District Councils were invited to participate in the Joint Local Authorities Gypsy and Traveller Panel chaired by Councillor Mrs June Fulcher of Havant Borough Council. The Panel has met 4 times and provided a valuable opportunity to share experience and take collective action.

17. This has led to a more consistent approach being taken in the management of encampments, exchange of information between Councils, preparation of Practice Guidelines and publication of information for both Gypsies and the settled community.

18. An electronic database has been set-up by the County Council to which relevant officers of other Councils have access to exchange intelligence on unauthorised encampments within the provisions of the Data Protection Act.

SHORT STAY/EMERGENCY STOPPING PLACES

19. The Panel had previously examined the provision of short stay/emergency stopping places for Gypsies but had decided to concentrate initially on other measures given the planning delays and uncertainties involved in identifying appropriate sites and securing the necessary planning and other approvals.

20. However, intended changes in government legislation, the increase in unauthorised encampments by large groups and notable judgements in court cases dealing with attempts by local authorities to evict unauthorised encampments, have highlighted the need for alternative locations to be available if the local authorities are to be confident of securing vacant possession of their land.

21. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has published proposals for modifications to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, 1994 which would increase the powers of the Police to move on unauthorised encampments but these would only be available if local authorities are able to make available suitable alternative sites.

22. If legislative changes are introduced and the court judgements continue to increase the requirements of local authorities to assess the health and welfare of Gypsies and to provide alternative accommodation, it will become increasingly important for short stay/emergency stopping places to be identified, provided and managed.

23. Central government has indicated its intention to make available additional funding, separate from the £8m made available for the 2003 financial year, to assist with the provision of gypsy accommodation but it should be noted that this funding does not make provision for revenue costs of management and clean-up. In the last two years most of this additional funding has gone into the up-grading of existing permanent Gypsy accommodation.

PLANNING FOR SHORT STAY/EMERGENCY STOPPING PLACES

24. Each Council will need to decide if it is to support the provision of short stay/emergency stopping places for Gypsies. It will be advisable for a county-wide approach to be taken and helpful to work with adjoining counties so as to avoid the possibility of Hampshire attracting additional Gypsies and Travellers due to the provision of short stay accommodation in the county.

25. With the limited amount of derelict land in the county, the quality and protection afforded to much of its rural areas and the pressures for development in Hampshire, identifying suitable sites and bringing them into use will be difficult, contentious and expensive.

26. To be effective, the location of short stay stopping places should reflect the established patterns of unauthorised encampments as locating the sites too far from the main travel patterns of Gypsies and Travellers will lessen the likelihood of the sites being used or being recognised as valid in the legal processes involved in regaining possession of Council land.

27. It will be important for each of the Local Planning Authorities to consider how the provision of short stay sites should be achieved through its Local Plan policies.

28. Whilst there is no definitive figure for the size of short stay sites 8-10 caravans are considered to be the preferred maximum size of groups using the sites. This would require in excess of 20 sites throughout the county to cope with summer levels of unauthorised encampments. This level of provision would need to be increased if recurring occupation of any of the identified sites would be unacceptable and only intermittent use would be tolerated to provide relief to local residents and businesses.

29. Detailed consideration will need to be given to the most effective form of management and of the means of financing. The Joint Local Authorities Gypsy and Traveller Panel is about to start scoping the work required to prepare a planning brief and criteria for site selection. The Panel will also consider management and funding issues.

CONCLUSION

30. The changing patterns of unauthorised encampments by Gypsies, impending changes in legislation and the emerging case law, suggest that local authorities will be unable to effectively manage unauthorised encampments unless alternative short stay accommodation is made available. Recommendations are given at the beginning of this report which propose actions aimed at providing short stay sites in Hampshire.

IAN PARKER
Head of Estates Practice

Date: 18 March 2003
Annex: 1
Contact: Ian Parker Tel: 01962 847269 E-mail: ian.parker@hants.gov.uk

ANNEX

Mr T McNulty MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
Eland House
Bressenden Place
LONDON SW1E 5DU

Dear Mr McNulty

Proposed Changes to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act

The Association of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Authorities (HIOW) represents all the principal councils (County, Unitary and District) in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight with the current exception of Southampton. The Local Associations of Parish and Town Councils are also members.

Local authorities within the Association have been working together to improve their management of unauthorised gypsy and traveller encampments on their land.

This has resulted in improved liaison arrangements and the adoption of Best Practice Guidance in negotiations with the gypsies and travellers and the settled community. However, the members of HIOW are extremely concerned that the proposals to enhance Police powers to move unauthorised encampments will be unworkable if there is a requirement for local authorities to provide alternative sites to which the gypsies may move.

The current planning process requires long periods of time to identify, consult, and confirm suitable locations for controversial uses such as gypsy and traveller sites. If the proposed changes to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act are to be implemented, their effect, together with recent court judgements, may leave local authorities without the ability to repossess their land and continue to be faced with high costs of management, clearance and clean-up as currently being experienced due to significant changes in the pattern of unauthorised encampments.

Whilst the announcement that central government will be extending funding arrangements in the future for capital grants for the provision of short stay sites, there appears to be no additional revenue funding commitments to meet the additional costs faced by local authorities. Given the current scale of the problem and the number of short stay sites which will be required, identifying the sites can be expected to be controversial and attract legal challenge which may further delay their provision. It will be important to secure sites consistently on at least a sub-regional basis and placing clear and specific commitments on local authorities countrywide would help achieve consistency and avoid the provision of such facilities just attracting additional gypsies to the area.

Hampshire is experiencing large numbers of travellers originating from the Republic of Ireland whose patterns of occupation have caused greater problems with the settled community and unlike indigenous gypsies, these problems have been throughout the year rather than on a traditional summer seasonal basis.

It would be helpful if central government would investigate the causes of this increase which appears to be linked to the Republic of Ireland enacting legislation which restricts unauthorised camping of any groups thereby not discriminating against gypsies as an ethnic group.

HIOW therefore requests that the proposed changes to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act should not be implemented without accompanying changes to planning guidance and the provision of additional funding to local authorities.

HIOW requests the opportunity for a deputation to be made as part of a constructive debate to assist the introduction of changes in legislation and funding arrangements so that the current unsatisfactory arrangements with unauthorised gypsy and traveller encampments in Hampshire and Southern England may be improved.

Yours sincerely

Councillor A Jackson
CHAIRMAN
Association of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Authorities

Copy to:

Councillor Mrs June Fulcher, Chairman, Joint Local Authorities Gypsy and Traveller Panel, Havant Borough Council
Paul Martin, Regional Director, GOSE
Brian Briscoe, Chief Executive, LGA

Last update: 18/03/2003
Author: Nick Goulder, Policy Manager

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