Unauthorised traveller sites are a huge worry for our local communities, and many of you have contacted me over the last week regarding the recent sites which arrived in Hextable, Sevenoaks and Otford. Those who arrive on unauthorised sites often bring with them anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping, and noise for local residents - this is unacceptable.
Thanks to a tremendous amount of hard work from the local and parish councils, supported by my office, we have (at the time of writing this) managed to evict the sites which were in play last week. However, I know the untold stress their arrival bought for many.
What has become apparent is the limitations of the existing powers of enforcement. Currently to trespass is a civil offence. This means landowners or local councils have to get a court order to evict people who set up camps on private or public land, and the police are unable to order people to move on without a crime being committed. This cannot continue, we must introduce laws which means the police can challenge and remove such unauthorised sites as quickly as possible.
At the end of last year, the Government announced a review into this issue, in response to MPs across the board relaying the frustration and distress felt by their constituents. The consultation covered measures to criminalise the act of trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales, as well as measures to strengthen police powers in order to tackle unauthorised encampments. The consultation survey closed at the start of March, and Ministers are currently analysing feedback.
I am confident the proposal put forward by Government will help to reduce the number of illegal sites, while respecting people’s right to a nomadic way of life, however I will continue to raise this issue with ministers to ensure we make progress. It is not acceptable to trespass on private land and we must introduce harsher penalties for those who do.
I know how strongly many readers will feel about this issue and I can reassure you that I share your concerns and frustrations. I will be monitoring developments closely and will update you as soon as I hear back from the Home Office. In the meantime, should you wish to contact me about this, or any other subject, please drop me an email via email@example.com or by contacting my office on 0207 219 4964.
Accessing and occupying private land is a criminal offence, and I will not rest until this is echoed in law.
Laura's MP column is published in the Sevenoaks Chronicle.