District leader responds to ‘urgent action’ call over traveller encampment
The leader of Suffolk Coastal District Council, which owns the land in Kesgrave currently occupied by a group of travellers, believes the eviction process would be made easier by simplifying legislation.
Ray Herring said forcing travellers to move from public land can not be done within a matter of days, and that the council’s case for enforcement would collapse if strict regulations were not followed.
Mr Herring was responding to a letter from three local representatives of Kesgrave – district councillor Sue Mower and county councillors Christopher Hudson and Robert Whiting – calling on the leader to “remedy the problem” and “ensure it cannot reoccur”.
Mr Herring said: “We have to follow two main pieces of legislature and policy. One of those is the Criminal Justice Act 1994. It’s not a perfect piece of legislation but we a required to work with it.
“For private landowners the process is rather more streamlined, whereas for public bodies and local government it is slightly more protracted. I think some streamlining of the Act would be welcomed.
“We also have a Suffolk-wide traveller policy which Suffolk Coastal initiated many years ago and has been adopted by all councils. It ensures we all work efficiently together. We need the police to play their part and the county council, where appropriate, to play theirs.”
The three councillors who penned the letter also highlighted the “ongoing and worsening nightmare facing our constituents and the lack of adequate, lawful provision for travellers in the district”.
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Last year Suffolk County Council led a six-week consultation on seven potential locations for three official gypsy and traveller stopping sites in an effort to solve the problem of unauthorised encampments.
But plans were pulled, partly due to insufficient consultation and many of the sites being considered inappropriate.
Mr Herring said the process of finding appropriate sites would begin again shortly, but that he believed short stay sites may not completely discourage travellers from pitching up elsewhere.
Finally, the three councillors insisted Mr Herring join them at the site in Kesgrave to see the problem and consult tax payers, and that he “refer the case to the appropriate committees for action”.
Mr Herring said: “It is clear that local residents are very concerned and want to show how unhappy they are to have an encampment in their midst.
“We have to allow the legal process to be conducted. We have a phrase at Suffolk Coastal when it comes to travellers – firm but fair. We apply our policies firmly but are obliged to carry out a range of welfare audits to determine any social service, health or education needs.
“Our ability to take action is done through the courts. I we fall short of carrying out the necessary process and act outside the Suffolk-wide policy, the we’ll arrive at court and it will be simply thrown out. It’s something we can’t do within a matter of days.
“I have had conversation with the councillors and will be talking to them again over the weekend. Kesgrave Town Council will be meeting on Monday and the legal process arrives in court again on Tuesday.”