Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has called on councils to clamp down on illegal encampments and to stop unauthorised traveller sites being set up.
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New guidance has been sent to all council leaders advising how to act swiftly. The advice sets out the strong powers councils and landowners have to remove illegal and unauthorised encampments, such as traveller sites, protest camps and squatter sites from both public and private land.
The guidance makes clear that councils should work with agencies, such as the police and Highways Agency, and make full use of the powers that can stop illegal camps ever starting.
Councils have seen a number of cases of people setting up unauthorised encampments at weekends, for example, and using that time to develop land illegally while council offices are closed.
Setting up camps during a weekend often means enforcement action needed to stop unauthorised camps and development – such as actions to stop the cutting down of protected trees or laying of concrete drives – is delayed or too late.
Eric Pickles said:
“I’m urging all councils to be on the front foot and ready to take action straightaway to stop illegal camps starting in the first place. This Government has strengthened councils’ powers to take action, but I want councils to have the confidence to take decisive action. Too often councils and landowners feel powerless to stop unauthorised camps and development when in fact there are extensive powers to tackle this problem head on.”
“Unauthorised development is totally unacceptable at any time but can often be more upsetting for local established communities when it happens while council offices are closed and people feel there is no one available to help them.
“There is never justification for people bypassing the planning rules that everyone else has to abide by and this guidance makes crystal clear what powers there are to stop unauthorised development before bigger problems arise.”
Mr Pickles has urged councils to ensure planning officers are ready to take swift enforcement action and use the tough powers available to tackle rogue encampments. Powers that can be used include:
- pre-emptive injunctions to protect vulnerable land from unauthorised encampments;
- possession orders to remove trespassers from land;
- police powers to order unauthorised campers to leave land;
- temporary stop notices to stop work that breaches planning rules, allowing councils to decide whether further enforcement action is needed
- powers of entry onto land so authorised officers can obtain information for enforcement purposes.
- planning contravention notices to stop work on development if there appears to be a breach of planning rules or a council needs more information about the activities on the land;
- enforcement notices to remedy a breach of planning rules;
- ensuring sites have valid caravan or tent site licenses.
The Government is committed to protecting the nation’s green spaces and this guidance will help protect Green Belt land and the countryside from illegal encampments.
The Government has already introduced new rights for travellers who play by the rules. These include stronger tenancy rights on authorised council sites, incentives through the New Homes Bonus scheme for councils to build more authorised sites, and the abolition of Whitehall Planning Circulars on travellers. It is spending £60million on helping local communities establish properly approved and planned sites and earlier this year published new planning policy on traveller sites.
‘Dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments: A summary of available powers’ is available here.