Gypsy and Traveller-related issues regularly make the news across the whole of the country, very often because of unauthorised encampments being set up in particular areas. Cheshire, Halton and Warrington suffer considerably less from such incursions than many other areas, but nonetheless they do happen, particularly during the spring and summer months.
Police and Partners Working Together
The Cheshire Gypsy and Traveller Strategic Partnership comprises representation from the four local authorities and Cheshire Constabulary. The group was constituted in an effort to ensure a fair and consistent approach to Gypsy and Traveller issues across the area.
What can the Police do about unauthorised encampments?
The lead role in the management of unauthorised encampments sits with local authorities. Cheshire Constabulary will consider becoming involved in bringing about the prompt and lawful removal of unauthorised encampments, including the use of police powers under Section 61 or 62 of the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994 where:
i) Local amenities are deprived to communities or there is significant impact on the environment.
This could include, for example, forming an encampment on any part of a recreation ground, public park, school field, village green, or depriving the public use of car parks. The fact that other sections of the community are being deprived of the amenities must be evident before action is taken.
ii) There is local disruption to the economy.
Local disruption to the economy would include forming an encampment on a shopping centre car park, or in an industrial estate, if it disrupts workers or customers, or agricultural land, if this results in the loss of use of the land for its normal purpose.
iii) There is other significant disruption to the local community or environment.
This might include where other behaviour, which is directly related to those present at an encampment, is so significant that a prompt eviction by police becomes necessary.
iv) There is a danger to life.
An example of this might be an encampment adjacent to a motorway, where there could be a danger of children or animals straying onto the carriageway.
v) There is a need to take preventative action.
This might include where a group of trespassers have persistently displayed anti-social behaviour at previous sites and it is reasonably believed that such behaviour will be displayed at this newly established site. This reasoning will take on greater emphasis if the land occupied is privately owned, as the landowner will be responsible for the cleansing and repair of their property.
Accommodation - The Key Issue
As mentioned above, the key issue in respect of unauthorised Gypsy & Traveller encampments is the lack of accommodation for the Travelling community. The shortage of suitable sites for Gypsy and Traveller families to live on and access as they move around the country leads to groups setting up unauthorised encampments (and increasingly unauthorised developments where people buy land lawfully and develop it without planning permission), thus creating the biggest single source of conflict between the Travelling and settled communities.
The Housing Act 2004 requires local authorities to develop and implement strategies to respond to the accommodation needs of the Gypsy and Traveller communities living in their areas. This legislation places an obligation on local authorities to carry out a Gypsy & Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessment to identify the need for sites. The latest such assessment for Cheshire, Halton and Warrington was published in March 2014 is available below: