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Gypsy and Traveller information

Unauthorised encampments

Unauthorised encampments are when a person or community intend to camp, live or trespass on land they do not own. Buckinghamshire experiences sporadic unauthorised encampments which can cause tensions within local communities if not managed appropriately. They can also be expensive and time-consuming to clear. Whilst there are a range of powers available to local authorities, landowners, and the police to address unauthorised encampments, it has not always been clear which authority should lead and which powers are most effective leading to potential inconsistency in response.

In order to address this, the Planning and Enforcement Team has developed a 'Memorandum of Understanding' between BCC, the four District Councils and Thames Valley Police. The Memorandum of Understanding sets out an agreed process and joint approach for dealing with unauthorised encampments. This approach ensures that any use of available powers is consistent, proportionate, non-discriminatory and compliant with the Human Rights Act 1998. The document also includes details about who is the lead authority in specific circumstances and which powers are available to them.

It is recognised that living a nomadic lifestyle is lawful and that some people may do so for cultural reasons. This protocol aims to take a balanced and proportionate approach to dealing with unauthorised encampments which is based on the objective assessment of the impact of the unauthorised encampment in question. This will include close liaison and effective communication with landowners, settled communities and those encamped, in order to explain where action is taken/not taken and the reasons for this.

If Gypsies or Travellers camp on private land, what can the landowner do?

Start by talking to them to see if a leaving date can be agreed. If this is unsuccessful they can take proceedings in the County Court under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 to obtain a court order for their eviction. There must be a minimum of two clear days between service of documents and the court hearing.

Does the Council have a duty to move Gypsies/Travellers when they are camped without the landowner’s permissions?

No. If they are camped on council land, the council can evict them. If it is private land, it is usually the landowner’s responsibility. The government has advised that when Gypsies/Travellers are not causing a problem, the site may be tolerated.

What if the landowner decides to let them stay on the land temporarily?

Unless the landowner has already obtained planning permission from the local District Council for a caravan site or is a farmer and the Gypsies/Travellers are helping with fruit picking etc, then the landowner could be in breach of planning acts and the acts dealing with the licensing of caravan sites.

I have seen Gypsies/Travellers camping on the side of the road and sometimes on parks or other council-owned lands, what can the council do?

If the Gypsies/Travellers are causing problems they will be moved on as soon as possible and reasonable. The Council will consider each case on its merits. In all cases, the site is visited and every effort made to make sure that the Gypsies/Travellers keep the site tidy and do not cause public health problems. This sometimes means that refuse collection facilities may be provided for this propose.

Can the Council remove Gypsies/Travellers from their land immediately?

No, the council must:

  • show that the Gypsies/Travellers are on the land without consent
  • make enquiries regarding the general health, welfare and children’s education
  • ensure that the Human Rights Acts 1998 has been fully complied with
  • they must also follow a set procedure in terms of proving ownership of land and details of the illegal encampment that will enable them to successfully obtain the necessary authority from the courts to order the Gypsies/Travellers to leave the site

How long will it take or the Gypsies/Travellers to be removed?

This will depend upon the circumstances of each individual case. The Council will need to take account of the issues outlined above as well as how soon they can obtain a court hearing date

Can the court refuse to grant the council an order to move Gypsies/Travellers on?

Yes. If there is an unavoidable reason for the Gypsies/Travellers to stay on the site, or if the court believes that the council have failed to make adequate enquiries regarding the general health and welfare of the Gypsies/Travellers. The Council must try to find out this information before going to court.

What can the police do?

The police will visit all sites reported to them. In certain circumstances (for example, where the Gypsies/Travellers have with them six or more vehicles), an officer may use powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. These powers will only be used in situations of serious criminality or public disorder not capable of being addressed by normal criminal legislation and in which the occupation of the land by way of trespass is a relevant factor.

The police are bound by the Human Rights Act and may be constrained to avoid using section 61 in circumstances where it would preclude welfare considerations from being applied by the civil courts.

The duty of the police is to preserve the peace and prevent crime. Trespass on land by itself is not a criminal offence. Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers are the responsibility of the landowner and not the police. The police will investigate all criminal and public order offences.

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