Government announces plans to tackle illegal traveller sites

The Home Secretary sets out draft measures to make it easier for officers to remove travellers from land “they should not be on”.

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Sajid Javid has today announced plans to give police new powers to crackdown on illegal traveller sites.

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

In addition, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced it will provide local authorities with practical and financial support to handle unauthorised encampments.

The plans follow an initial consultation by the government to look at how to strengthen the response from police and local authorities, following calls for robust measures to protect landowners and those living close by.

MHCLG has committed to give councils up to £1.5m of extra funding to help them enforce planning rules and tackle unauthorised sites, with funding also available under the £9bn Affordable Homes Programme to help pay for legal pitches.

Alongside this, the department has also given £250,000 to support projects working with Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities to tackle discrimination, improve integration, healthcare and education.

As part of the measures announced today, ministers will consider making data available on the location of legal sites, so it is clear which authorities are not offering their fair share of traveller facilities.

Additionally, the Home Office will launch a review into whether it should criminalise the act of trespassing when setting up an encampment. A change in the law may allow the police to respond quicker and take tougher action.

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 from which they have already been removed

On the announced plans, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens, but illegal sites often give an unfair, negative image of their community and cause distress and misery to those who live nearby.

“There is a widespread perception that the law does not apply to travellers and that is deeply troubling.

“The result of our initial consultation was clear – people want to see greater protection for local communities and for the police to be given greater power to crack down on trespassers.”

Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP added: “During our consultation, we have heard accounts of needless and unacceptable noise, abusive and threatening behaviour and extensive litter and waste from illegal traveller sites.

“Only a small minority of people are causing this distress, but it’s right that police are given extra powers to step in.

“We are committed to working with councils to help them deal with these challenging cases, while also ensuring travellers have good access to legal sites.”

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