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Proposed Changes to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (particularly with regard to Gypsies and Travellers

Letter sent from the Association's Chairman to Tony McNulty MP on 27 May 2003

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. 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 between the travellers and the settled community.

However, we 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 travellers may move.

The current planning process requires long periods of time to identify, consult, and confirm suitable locations for controversial uses such as 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. Placing clear and specific commitments on local authorities countrywide would help achieve consistency and avoid the provision of such facilities just attracting additional travellers 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. It would also be helpful to know what other EU countries are enacting similar legislation, and to consider the position of prospective EU countries such as Romania and Hungary.

This Association 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.

We would appreciate 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 traveller encampments in Hampshire and Southern England may be improved.

 

 

 

 

 

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Last update:  04/08/2008
Author:          Nick Goulder, Director

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