Police and Crime Commissioner urges MPs to strengthen the law on travellers

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has urged MPs to back stronger powers to tackle the issue of unauthorised traveller encampments, when the issue is debated in parliament next week.

There were an estimated 395 unauthorised encampments in the West Midlands in 2016, more than doubling from 189 in 2011.

The PCC held a wide-ranging summit on how to tackle unauthorised traveller encampments earlier this year, attended by MPs, other PCCs, senior police officers, council officials and members of the travelling community.

The Police and Crime Commissioner wants MPs to back proposals for:

  • More Transit Sites across the region:

Transit sites crucially unlock policing powers that make it quicker and easier to evict people from unauthorised encampments. They are proven to reduce the number of unauthorised encampments in an area and allow the police to ban groups from entire council areas if they refuse to use an available transit site. A transit site can charge for rent and require a deposit, enabling it to pay for itself.

  • Stronger powers for police:

At the moment, police can only direct difficult travelling groups to a transit site within a council area. If these groups could be directed by the police to neighbouring transit sites, or those nearby, then the power could better serve the wider area. Council borders are administrative, but not always relevant to local people. A change in the law to allow police to direct groups to transit sites in the wider area would be fairer and more effective.
Banning the worst groups, who engage in criminal activity from the whole West Midlands area for three months at a time would be a serious deterrent. Currently, there is no easy way to stop an anti-social group from unleashing misery by travelling between and within each local council area until they are moved on.

  • Better protection for businesses and private land:

MPs are asked to consider supporting legislative change that protects private landowners from being repeat victims of unauthorised traveller encampments, through making sanctions available for travelling groups that return to the same private land. Reducing the time taken for evictions would also improve the response.

  • Injunctions that cover larger areas:

Injunctions have been made in court both banning unauthorised encampments on pieces of land, as well as banning individuals from establishing encampments in a borough. So far, these injunctions have only been achieved by individual local councils, though if a family are causing issues in part of the Black Country, we know that same family will often prove difficult in Birmingham, Solihull or Coventry. Once again a regional approach would improve the situation, banning individuals for up to two years from the West Midlands instead of a single council. So much time and money is spent on obtaining court injunctions, which is why it would be beneficial to see them support local residents across the entire West Midlands.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said,
"This will be a significant opportunity for MPs to raise the issue of unauthorised traveller encampments and the weakness of policing powers on the issue. I hope local MPs push the Government to take the urgent action we need.

"My postbag and inbox are filled, each week, with correspondence from local resident's concerned about unauthorised traveller encampments in their areas. There are few issues that get local people as passionate, and rightly so. Problems have been around for too long and too little has been done to address them. But we shouldn't shy away from the difficult issues, least of all those that matter so much to people.

"There were an estimated 395 unauthorised encampments in the West Midlands in 2016, more than doubling from 189 in 2011. This has cost local councils millions of pounds in clean-up costs and eviction. It has also resulted in untold misery for local people whose lives have been disrupted.

"It is a minority of the travelling community that cause problems and have been allowed to give the whole community a bad name. However, the anger felt by the public towards that minority is very real and understandable.

"Small practical changes in the law would unlock extra powers for the police to tackle many of the issues we face."

Debates on travellers are taking place on Monday 9 October and Thursday 12 October.
Main Chamber - General debate - Gypsies and Travellers and local communities
Westminster Hall debate - Unauthorised encampments - Wendy Morton