Weekly Column - General Debate (Travellers)

Residents have experienced a sharp increase in the number of unauthorised traveller encampments in the borough of Solihull this summer. The same is true is in other parts of the country, which led to MPs securing a general debate on this in Parliament on Monday in which I took part.

In the West Midlands the number of unauthorised encampments has doubled since 2011 and Solihull has experienced twice as many camps this year as we did in 2015. This is despite a number of changes to the law in 2013 which enabled the police to serve an eviction notice under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice Act when there is clear evidence of anti-social behaviour, vandalism and criminality.

However, it is clear that there a loopholes in this legislation which has made it ineffective against the threat of successive unauthorised or illegal incursions. Whilst the offenders are banned from returning within three months, it does not prevent a different group settling on the same site as was the case in Bentley Heath park this summer.

To that end, I have called for the law to be changed in order for the protection to apply to the land thus giving the settled community respite from these unauthorised camps. This can be achieved with injunctions but only where there is space at authorised encampments where travellers can be moved to.

Solihull Council have sought to provide spare pitches at its authorised encampments but travellers do not always accept to be moved to these. One concern which emerged from that debate is that the children of travellers have much worse health and educational outcomes than those of the settled community from the lack of continuity in access to public services.

The Government has agreed to consult on new and existing measures to close loopholes in the law which lead to unauthorised encampments and I will work closely with local residents and Solihull Council in calling for changes to be made which save the tax payer funding constant resources to the courts and police for eviction costs.

It is clear there is a balance to be struck between protections for the settled community and for the traveller community and it is important to remember that most of the latter are law abiding.

 

Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP

Published in the Solihull News | Thursday 12th September 2017

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