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Unauthorised Development/Illegal Encampments

Volume 553: debated on Monday 12 November 2012

7. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the powers of local authorities to deal with illegal Traveller sites. (127618)

We have renewed councils’ powers to deal with illegal and unauthorised encampments. On 28 August, we sent new guidance to council leaders on how to best use these existing powers. We will also consult on giving councils greater freedom to stop unauthorised development related to caravans.

Over the past two years, there have been 78 reported incidents of illegal encampments in my constituency. Travellers are telling my local residents that they had better sell their properties to them now, because they will not be able to sell them at all when there is an encampment at the back of the property. That tends to undermine social cohesion in my constituency and people’s belief in the planning system. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will ensure that all parts of our society are dealt with fairly and equally under the planning guidelines?

My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. It is immensely important to ensure that communities are free from intimidation, and that all communities can safely go about their work in the sure and certain knowledge that the Town and Country Planning Acts treat people the same. That is why we have issued the guidance. There can be absolutely no excuse for any local authority not taking prompt action.

A recent case in Warrington has involved a group of Travellers being repeatedly moved on peacefully using section 77 directions to leave orders, but they move only a few hundred metres and the whole process starts again, costing time and money. Will the Secretary of State consider amending the order, such that people will be required to leave the local authority area and not just the site?

It is probably no comfort to my hon. Friend to learn that the number of caravans on unauthorised sites has gone down—in 2007, it was 21%, and it is currently 16%. However, with regard to directions to leave orders, under sections 62A to E of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, unauthorised campers commit an offence if they do not leave when directed to do so, or if they return to the district within three months after being directed, and the police may arrest and detain them.