Purpose of Report
To provide the Executive with an update on recent unauthorised encampments in the city, consider a proposal as to how to deal with these in the future and seek authority to delegate the signing of the revised Joint Protocol for dealing with unauthorised encampments in Lincolnshire to the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council.
That the proposal to apply for a city-wide Injunction Order and the delegation of authority for the changes to the Joint Protocol dealing with unauthorised encampments in Lincolnshire being signed off by the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council be approved.
Alternative Options Considered and Rejected
If the Council did not take action to resolve instances of unauthorised encampments, costs and resources would be taken up by each encampment which unlawfully arrived on City Council land. To not sign to revised Joint Protocol risked there being an ad-hoc reaction to unauthorised encampments countywide, meaning that the potential benefits of partnership working would not be maximised.
Reason for Decision
The City Council had experienced numerous unauthorised encampments since the Joint Protocol was originally approved in 2014. Each encampment took up substantial officer time and resources, often necessitating an application to the court and extensive interaction with third parties, with engagements often being protracted and confrontational. The Joint Protocol had therefore been a very useful document on which to base the response of the Council to any encampments and, in particular, had led to improved relationships between Lincolnshire County Council, the Police and the City Council. As a result this had improved the consistency of approach.
The proposed revised Joint Protocol being considered by the County Council included the following main changes:
· to include a precedent Community Impact Assessment to be completed in the initial visit to capture information in a consistent manner and enable a full assessment of the impact to inform decisions about actions to be taken;
· to include a standard report to be completed by a local authority to present to the Police, with relevant documents attached to cover all actions taken regarding the encampment and suggested justifications for the Police to exercise their discretionary powers to evict trespassers in an unauthorised encampment;
· to include powers of the County Council in respect of taking action against encampments on the highway;
· to firm up definitions, expanding on general requirements.
A review had been carried out on the available powers and other authority’s approaches to unauthorised encampments. In particular, the City Council had been linking with the Lincolnshire Shared Services legal team and their involvement in obtaining a citywide Injunction in Boston from the High Court. This had included various areas of land which had been targeted by unauthorised encampments and was granted in 2014. Since that time, whenever a group of travellers who met the requirements of the Order arrived the Police served upon them the Injunction Order. To date this had appeared to have had the desired effect with groups moving on relatively quickly and without the need for further legal action. This approach had also been taken by the City of Wolverhampton Council which had now obtained an Injunction Order covering 60 sites in their area.
In terms of the Council pursuing an Injunction Order, it would need to present evidence of unauthorised encampments across the city and in the areas which it was seeking to be covered by the Order. This needed to show the impact on the residents or visitors to the areas as well as the financial and reputational impact on the Council itself. There also needed to be a site set aside in the boundary to offer to the travellers, which there currently was within the city at Washingborough Road. However, over the past few years no members of any of the encampments had chosen to move to the Washingborough Road site as it was occupied mainly by one family whom it was understood the traveller community would not want to share a site with.
Support for the Injunction Order had been given by the Police through the Chief Inspector and also the County Council’s Traveller’s Liaison Officer. The City Council was therefore working in partnership with the County Council which was hoping to be able to include any areas of its land in the application within the city boundary where encampments had occurred in the past.
The City Council’s Policy Scrutiny Committee considered this report at its meeting on 9 October 2018 where support for the proposals was given.
Councillor Ric Metcalfe, Leader of the Council, acknowledged that the public always expected the Council to act quickly in response to unauthorised encampments, although made it clear that there was a balance to be struck regarding people’s right to roam and any illegal occupation of land. It was noted that the rights and specific needs of any individuals would always be taken into account as part of addressing any unauthorised occupation of land, whether an Injunction Order was in place or not. It was clear in analysing use of Injunction Orders by other authorities that they acted as a significant deterrent.
Councillor Jackie Kirk asked why the costs associated with the unauthorised encampment at Hartsholme Country Park in 2016 had cost the authority so much in comparison to other unauthorised encampments. It was reported that a significant amount of damage had occurred to fixtures and fittings in the park which had to be repaired or replaced, together with clean-up costs and loss of bookings and associated income due to antisocial behaviour.
Councillor Neil Murray said that anything which could be done to truncate the amount of time and resources between the initial unauthorised occupation of land and removal from that land should be supported.