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Unauthorised Encampments

Volume 537: debated on Monday 5 December 2011

9. If he will take steps to increase the powers of local authorities to tackle unauthorised encampments. (84503)

The Localism Act 2011 will give councils more powers to tackle unauthorised development, such as stopping the abuse of retrospective planning permissions. We are reviewing what further steps can be taken to increase council powers to tackle unauthorised development and occupation. High-profile cases such as Parliament square and St Paul’s show that the current system is far too slow and that councils need stronger powers to protect local amenities.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that local authorities apply their powers consistently? Residents such as mine in South Ockendon find it very irritating that they have to abide by the council’s planning regulations while unauthorised encampments nearby are able to flout them with impunity.

My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. It is important that everyone in this country is equal before the law and that the law is used against those who seek to abuse their position. After the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill received Royal Assent, my Department started to work with the Home Office to produce guidance for local authorities that want to make byelaws that provide for the confiscation of property. Such byelaws will allow for the removal of tents in Parliament Square.

In my constituency of North West Leicestershire, we often find that illegal Traveller encampments are located on the very edge of our district, or straddle land with another bordering council. That can lead to unnecessary delays and confusion while councils decide who is responsible for the site. Is the Secretary of State aware of that problem? If he is, what steps is he taking to ensure that councils co-operate to ensure that such encampments are removed as quickly as possible?

I am aware of the problem, which illustrates how existing planning procedures that were introduced under the previous Government are flawed. It is important to have equality between Travellers and the settled populations. There is now a duty on local authorities to co-operate. I know of a number of successful incidents in which local authorities have worked in consortiums to deal with this problem. Enforcement will be quicker. Stronger powers under section 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 can be used when there is a vacant pitch or an alternative site in a nearby local authority.