This report relates to the issues surrounding the trespassing of travellers in and near to Blythe ward from 21 September (approx.) to Saturday 1 October 2016. The former date is approximate because I was on holiday. I believe the time line is accurate (give or take).
Whilst relaxing by the pool in Lanzarote on Wednesday 21 September I became aware, via my twitter feed, of travellers trespassing on Hillfield Local Nature Reserve (Monkspath Park to some). I liaised with my ward colleague, Cllr Alex Insley to confer with Solihull Council (SMBC) officers to facilitate their removal. I was confident they would be required to be removed quickly and this was achieved by Friday 23 September.
It then transpired, on Monday 19 September, another group of travellers had trespassed onto the rear field of Audi, Stratford Road, Shirley (this is just over the boundary of the ward into Shirley South ward). This is private land and the council and police liaised with the owners to advise regarding the legal process. It is fair comment that an amount of anti social behaviour and other criminal acts were alleged to have been committed by members of this group.
On Wednesday 28 September, once it was realised a civil court order had been granted some of the group began to move away from the Audi site and it appears they were somewhat threatening and broke into Hillfield Local nature Reserve (the second incursion in just over a week). Both myself and Alex Insley realised what was happening and went down to the entrance to find the locks to both gates had been broken by a bolt cutter, or some similar implement. This group were hostile.
The following day saw Solihull Police and Solihull Council report to the travellers they were to use their powers under section 61, Criminal Justice Act 1994, directing the trespassers to leave the land by 9am the following day (please see a copy of the notices that a resident found littering the site).
That evening the group from that part of Hillfield Local Nature Reserve (they were situated on the main car park and surrounding football pitches) left that area and broke into the ‘top end’ of the park, still off Monkspath Hall Road near to Thornton Road. A resident saw some breaking down the low fencing, breaking a tree to allow access to that area. I presume the travellers went there believing that as it was another site a different court order was required; they were mistaken and Solihull Police facilitated their removal from the force area in quick time. The council then set into motion the clean-up of the whole park – there was quite a mess.
Whilst this was all happening another group of travellers had descended on Monkspath hall car park (opposite Tudor Grange Park, in St Alphege ward). Whilst these were still trespassing this group were known to be French, posed no anti social or crime problems and had been returning home from a Christian Festival up north when there was some sort of breakdown. However, this group were known to package and bag up all their litter etc. This group left on Sunday 2 October, leaving the site relatively clean.
Gypsy and Travellers in Solihull – accommodating need:
Local authorities are bound by law to provide for the needs of travellers and gypsies and SMBC was the first local authority in the country to adopt a sound plan.
Section 1.2.4. highlights the problems in failing to allocate sufficient land to meet the need for new pitches has a number of impacts includes:
- Continuing the current problem of unauthorised development and encampments, as well as tensions with the settled community;
- Reinforcing the cycle of nomadism for those Gypsies and Travellers who may prefer a more settled existence, but cannot find a permanent site;
- Restricting the Council’s ability to enforce against unauthorised development as our ability to enforce is related to our proactivity in meeting the need for new provision.
The last bullet point is crucial because in spite of some local opposition this plan has helped both Solihull Police and Council when tackling travellers and gypsies.
SMBC and Solihull Police have achieved a great record in having travellers moved off within three days. The plan can be viewed here: http://www.solihull.gov.uk/Portals/0/Planning/Gypsy/Gypsy_and_Traveller_Site_Allocations_Plan.pdf
Powers available to both Police and Local Authorities:
Powers have been available from 1994 through the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. A full breakdown of all powers that could be used can be found within this document (Dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments: A summary of available powers): This document was published in 2015 so it up to date. 150326_dealing_with_illegal_and_unauthorised_encampments_-_final
However, as with most legislation guidelines are also published and this 2006 document (Guide to effective use of enforcement powers) is important for police and local authorities: travellers-enforcement-powewrs
As if the guidelines to use of the powers was not enough there is legal points of law, derived through practice over the years. Whether we like it or not (and there will be some that do not) the rights and needs of the traveller community have to be accommodated.
I found this article on the internet; Eviction from unauthorised encampments by Marc Willers QC of Garden Court Chambers: fft-eviction-from-unauthorised-encampments-mw9_-3-2015 I have every reason to believe this paper is crucial in understanding the issues police and local authorities have to accommodate.
Three important paragraphs are, 20, 21 and 22, which includes the following points:
Relying upon the decision in R. (on the application of Casey) v Crawley BC  EWHC 301 (Admin);  B.L.G.R. 239, the Welsh Government Guidance on Managing Camping 2013 advises local authorities in the following terms:
“Effectively, if an unauthorised encampment arises and there are no alternative authorised pitches in the area, local authorities have three clear paths relating to how they can resolve the encampment. Each option should be carefully considered: Path 1 – To seek and obtain possession of the occupied site (eviction proceedings).Path 2 – To ‘tolerate’ the Gypsy or Traveller occupiers, if only for a short time, until an alternative site can be found or the occupiers move on voluntarily. Path 3 – To find an alternative site, if only on a temporary basis, and offer the Gypsy or Traveller occupiers the chance to move onto it.'”
Para 21 – This relates to welfare consideration of travellers.
Para 22. If the police or a local authority or other public body fails to comply with the Government Guidance, and/or with the principles laid down in case law then a decision to evict may be susceptible to challenge by way of an application for judicial review.
I hope I have covered the legal and procedures aspects sufficiently. I also hope the reader understands why the local authority can not just go into an unauthorised camp and evict the trespassing travellers.
Other Issues mentioned on the Facebook site:
- Were any usual car park visitors given parking tickets whilst the travellers were on the car park?
- The answer to this is I don’t know. I could find out but I would have thought we maintained the usual terms of conditions for using the car park. The French travellers did not really cause too much disruption to the car park
- Were any fixed penalty tickets given out for driving offences and other offences such as littering?
I suspect not. In relation to the travellers on the Audi site and Hillfield Local Nature Reserve, even police officers did not confront them by themselves. I also know from my experience there would be substantial problems in following up any tickets that would have been issued. Is this fair? No. Is it practical? Yes.
- Can we take measures to stop the coming again?
All measure currently taken will be reviewed. We must though keep things in perspective, especially as we do not have too many encampments (far less than those authorities who have successfully sought a civil court injunction). It is important to note that the illegal trespassing through causing damage to facilitate entry is an important point in gaining a court order allowing the eviction of travellers. This is why we have measures in place: the two locked gates and the ridge and moat surrounding the park.
Yes, the locks can be broken but digging a hole in the ridges is simple enough as well, but how far do we go? Do we need measures that will only serve to make things more uncomfortable for the normal park users? Do we really want boulders around the park and an entry system that makes it difficult to drive into the park? These are questions that we will ask ourselves and I will be consulting on.
I do ask readers to keep a perspective. We had visitors in January 2015 and then two within days of each other last week. On the first two occasions the trespassers were moved on within three days through an order the local authority sought from the civil court. The trespassers who had come from the Audi site proved to be a different sort and, because of the problems they had and were creating; Solihull Police chose to use the criminal law powers to evict them. This is a rare use of these powers but it was appropriate on this occasion.
As always we will review and try to learn from anything. This report itself is one part of that (I doubt there is evidence of another councillor doing something similar).
We do take travellers seriously is Solihull and since the adoption of the Gypsy and Travellers Plan we have had a solid record in evicting trespassing travellers within three days through diligent use of civil law powers.
Please fee; free to comment on this post, or email via khawkins@solihull,gov.uk . I wish to avoid any nastiness and welcome any constructive comments.