County councillor call for authorised Travellers’ site as Thanet council visits 26th ‘illegal’ camp this year

Council officers and police visited the site this morning

Thanet council officers have today (June 29) visited Travellers currently staying on the authority owned car park at the rear of Dreamland.

The group moved on to the site yesterday afternoon. There are currently ten caravans parked up. It is the 26th unauthorised encampment in Thanet this year.

A Thanet council spokesman said: “We are aware of the illegal traveller encampment that has arrived at Dreamland car park. Officers from Thanet District Council are visiting the site today in order to undertake the necessary welfare assessments and following that, as appropriate, the required notices will be issued.”

There have been calls for action – such as barriers or ditches –  from residents in Dane Valley and those living close to Jackey Bakers following the increased number of incursions this year.

There have also been suggestions that Thanet council should provide an authorised site similar to those in Canterbury and Aylesham.

Labour county councillor Karen Constantine is backing the option of providing an authorised site. She said she has met with some of the Travellers on the isle and they told her they were keen to settle down, not permanently, but long enough for their children to obtain some education. She said they expressed shock when she explained how many homeless people there are in Thanet.

She said: “I can fully understand the frustrations of the ‘settled’ community with the mess and disruption that sometimes occurs after these so called ‘incursions’. But we do also have to recognise that Travellers have rights too. We need to strike the right balance by creating proper sites with proper facilities. There is a shortage right across Kent.

“We need to look for a proper Traveller site here in Thanet. If we provided  facilities then it would hopefully curtail the number of encampments that are unauthorised. “

The figures for Thanet

A Travellers group at Dane Valley Green

Last August Thanet council revealed that Traveller incursions on the isle had risen a massive 15-fold over five years.

In 2013 Thanet council dealt with two incursions. Last year there were around 40 and so far this year there have been 26.

This year Travellers setting up on the isle have used land including Dane Valley Green and Jackey Bakers, Ramsgate Port, land by Manston Tesco, St Nicholas, land by Manston airport, and, currently, Dreamland, land at the rear of B&Q and Lord of the Manor.

The most recent settlements at Dane Valley Green and Jackey Bakers have resulted in the need for clear up operations due to flytipped waste.

Thanet council – action and solutions

Jackey Bakers Photo Jim Lovett Dalley

A ‘position statement’ created by Thanet council reveals the authority is looking to target open spaces in order to make access difficult for those trying to use land to camp on.

The statement says: “We will be focussing on those areas that see regular encampments such as Jackey Bakers Recreational Ground. Tactics will include, but not be limited to options, such as bund mounds and tamper proof chains and padlocks.”

Other actions taken alongside the legal process of issuing notice to quit include gathering details and checking them against TDC records to then issue a Community Protection Warning Notice, or Community Protection Notice if a warning has previously been served.

If taken to prosecution, any equipment or vehicles used in the breach of a notice can be seized. In one weekthis month, 48  warnings were served on unauthorised encampments.

Fly-tipping, littering and parking checks are also undertaken and Fixed Penalty Notices issued where appropriate.

The penalty notices included parking fines related to the Margate car park, according to one district councillor.

Government review

A government review of the law and powers to deal with unauthorised caravan sites and developments is being led by Housing Minister Dominic Raab. Consultation on the issue opened in April and closed on June 15.

The Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) group called on the Housing Minister to address the chronic national shortage of Gypsy and Traveller sites and available stopping places in the UK. The group’s research shows there has been only been a 2% increase in socially rented pitches available between 2010 and 2017. They say a government fund aimed at helping local authorities provide pitches, the Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes programme (2016-2021), has not had a single application.

The results of the consultation have not yet been made public

Traveller Movement report

A report compiled by the Traveller Movement and commissioned by the National Inclusion Health Board, found that poor health in Gypsies and Travellers is made worse by their living environment, accommodation insecurity and community discrimination.

The report says: “Unauthorised and authorised sites for Gypsies and Travellers (including local authority owned and run) are all too often situated in environments which promote poor health (busy roads, beside heavy industry etc).

“Improving the environmental health factors of existing sites and promoting appropriate future development of Traveller sites will improve health outcomes in the long-term. Such measures are also likely to prove cost-effective in terms of reduced ill-health and disability, increased mental health etc”.

Thanet council process explained

Police at the car park site

The first step is to notify Kent Police and Kent County Council’s Gypsy and Traveller unit.

TDC then visit the site to establish the extent of the encampment, make records of the number of caravans, tents or persons, complete required welfare checks, make records of vehicle registration plates and take photographs where necessary.  Welfare checks are required by law and any welfare concerns are escalated to the relevant support agencies or departments.

If no concerns for welfare are raised or can not be evidenced, a Notice is served detailing an imminent departure time.

If welfare concerns are raised and can be evidenced or the encampment is in a location that causes no safety concerns and there are no other anti-social or criminal behaviours present then Government guidance states that the encampment should be tolerated for a short period of time.

If the encampment remains past the time detailed on the Notice, a first court hearing is requested. The timescales in order to carry out appropriate checks and obtain hearings may mean there is 7-10 days between first visit to the encampment and the first court hearing.

If agreed by Magistrates, the court will issue a summons to the occupants of the encampment requiring attendance at a second hearing.  This is then served on the occupants by the council with police support.

The court can schedule this second hearing at anytime they see fit. The council cannot influence this timescale.

At the second hearing the court considers granting an order for removal; if granted this is then served on the occupants and gives them a date and time by which they must leave the land they are camped on.

If this order is not complied with then the council has to instruct bailiffs to forcibly remove the occupants and their vehicles.