I have now met with both Peterborough MP’s, senior police officers, the police and crime commissioner, the deputy commissioner, a cabinet member, senior council officers and many private businesses and residents affected by illegal traveller encampments.
Some 30 people attended the meeting and it was very useful to hear and appreciate the individual’s experiences and some of the ideas as to how we move forward to prevent such illegal encampments happening in the future and how to react to them when they do occur.
More than a staggering £500,000 has been wasted defending and/or reacting to these illegal encampments this year across the public and private sector, and if you add the substantial personal effect some of these particular encampments have had on our residents not just with the mess and criminal damage but also by way of stress, worry and personal threats, it was very clear to us all that a real solution is needed.
Our MP Shailesh Vara was very good, his lawyer training being very useful when it came to discussing the powers already in place in law, and he didn’t hold back when telling those in authority what he thought.
To be fair the police and council officers were also very open and honest, they were doing all they could but were also clearly frustrated at the inconsistent approach to these encampments and open to finding a lasting solution. Well done to them.
Discussion took place as to the reactive approach but nothing really new was coming forward so I stated that my frustration was that we allow these illegal encampments in the first place and it was here that we should concentrate our efforts. A proactive approach was needed.
I suggested that we look to protect all our vulnerable public spaces not just by physical means such as barriers and bunds etc. but also look to place an injunction on all those lands. This would make stopping on our public lands illegal in the first place. It was agreed that this was a lawful option the council could take and that it would be considered seriously.
As expected the conversation then turned to where then travellers could be directed to by the police and authority should this injunction be successful? Emergency Stopover Places (ESP’s) have been discussed before and only one in Dogsthorpe was finally agreed to and this could only to be used for a maximum of 28 days per year. Clearly this is not a suitable arrangement.
Not surprisingly, it will be a difficult exercise convincing any ward to have an ESP in it because of the difficulties experienced in the past but I feel if we do this right with the proper public consultation and assurances that such ESP’s would be funded by those users ‘having to pay’ a nightly plot fee as lets face it, we all have do if we want to camp in a tent or caravan then there is hope for a way forward.
To this end I have now been invited onto the ESP committee to help understand the problem and investigate how we might move forward to find a satisfactory and fair solution for everyone. I don’t have all the answers but I am confident we are getting closer. I will of course keep you all informed.
In the meantime please ensure you report any suspicious activity around our public land and any illegal encampments to the police straight away on 101 and let your local councillors know.