Council investigates solutions as Tivoli Park Traveller group brings isle’s unauthorised encampments to 39 so far this year

Travellers' site proposals Photo Gavin Wallis

A Traveller group has set up at Tivoli Park in Margate, bringing unauthorised encampments this year to 39.

The group arrived today (August 7) and are in addition to an encampment at Dane Park where there are now around 15 caravans. A gathering at the Sunken Gardens on Westbrook Prom was moved on by police and council enforcement officers today.

A summons to court has been issued on the Travellers at Dane Park – a hearing is scheduled for Friday (August 9) and a summons will be issued to the group at Tivoli park imminently, the council say.

An action plan is being developed by Thanet council to deal with the growing number of unauthorised Traveller encampments in the district.

A working group has been set up to investigate the issue and  look at areas including Traveller accommodation, security measures and increased enforcement at high risk areas.

An update from the council’s Travellers Review sub committee is due on October 22. The  Overview and Scrutiny committee meeting will take place at the council offices in Cecil Street from 7pm. Members of the public may attend.

Unauthorised camps have risen from two in 2013 to 50 last year.

Residents’ concerns

 Dane Park

Thanet residents, particularly those living at frequently used sites such as Dane Valley Green, the Westcliff and, previously, Jackey Bakers in Ramsgate, say mess, noise and intimidation are the main issues. There have also been complaints of damage to public areas.

Last year security measures were installed at Jackey Bakers fields after Thanet council responded to a campaign by residents asking for help to prevent Traveller incursions and nuisance bikers from using the area.

Measures included bollards to restrict vehicle access, CCTV and 200 metres of metal fencing.

A similar plea for barriers, a ditch or a bund has been made by residents at Dane Valley .

Authorised pitches

There are currently no authorised pitches in Thanet district. The nearest pitches are in Dover and Canterbury.

A report commissioned by Thanet council says the district should provide five Traveller pitches -to accommodate 10 caravans – in the five year period up to 2022 and then an additional two pitches – equating to four more caravans- by 2031.

Suggestions in the report also included training officers to better understand the ways and traditions of Gypsies and Travellers; ‘myth busting’; establishing better links with existing Traveller community groups and raising awareness through websites, public meetings and events.

A spokesman from the Friends, Families and Travellers organisation has previously told The Isle of Thanet News that a lack of official sites is forcing groups to pull up on public land and not enough is being done to address that issue.

The group says that despite a Government scheme making £4.7 billion available under the Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes Programme 2016-2021 – which includes provisions to build Gypsy and Traveller sites – not a single local authority has used this funding to build sites.

They added: “It would appear that there is a need in Thanet for authorised sites to be built. We would recommend that the district council and local authority work with the Traveller community in the area to identify land that would be suitable for building new sites to accommodate these residents.”

Thanet council process explained

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.