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Draft Policy discussion document - traveller encampments
Late summer saw the temporary arrival in the Newbury area of a convoy of 20 vehicles, reputedly carrying southern Irish travellers. 

There swift departure, hastened by the intervention of a senior police office from Reading, again highlighted a seldom commented on aspect of domestic policy.

Britain’s travelling communities are indeed trying to continue a nomadic way of life, increasingly out of step with the modern world, but do not deserve to be constantly hounded into moving on from one site to another like some unwanted invasion as they are all too often portrayed.

The events of Dale Farm have polarised attitudes in this country, but simply prodding travellers into moving on simply shows the casual prejudices that remain in our society.

A minority of travellers have encouraged hostility through their opportunistic behaviour, and one of the commonest complaints I hear is that their protracted stays would not be half as bad if they didn't habitually leave behind their accumulated rubbish for the council to remove at the tax payer’s expense.

It has been pointed out that people can be tolerant of travellers if in turn travellers respect local people – it works both ways.  To earn respect and tolerance people must also show and offer respect and tolerance.

Previous correspondents from the oddly named Traveller Liaison Officer for West Berkshire Council sort to reassure me travellers camped illegally were moved on as quickly as the local authority and Police could achieve. Their welfare appeared to be nobodies concern.

The procedure as explained to me was that if there are signs of forced entry and hence criminal damage, the police may decide to use their own powers, (S61), to move them on if it is private land.

Otherwise the land owner would have to take legal action of their own accord and expense.

If it was public land, the council would start their own process (S77) to have the encampment moved on.  If they refuse to leave the council was likely to make a complaint at the magistrate court (S78) which can take 5 to 7 days as they would have to wait for a slot in court.

In the vast majority of cases, the later threat, with the implied legal costs, unlikely to actually be recovered, and the seizure of their vehicle is enough to move them on.

Peterborough council has introduced emergency stopping places, where if travellers park up in unsuitable places they can be moved immediately to a temporary stopping point under the direction of the council’s liaison officer.

The downside with setting up the Emergency stopping points is that the time they can be occupied is very limited as available land in suitable locations. 

In the long-term the foremost issue is the provision of hard standings and stop over sites across the country. A plan for a minimum number of national stopping sites existed, but has never come to fruition.

At one time their provision became the responsibility of Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. As this was presumably a political hot potato and likely to bring adverse and unwelcomed public scrutiny to government decisions, the issue was devolved to local authorities.

Similarly councillors, mindful of local public opinion have sort to kick applications into the long-grass.

In these circumstances the responsibility for the provision of encampments, running water, and where applicable education and medical treatment must come back to central government.

If necessary a government department needs to be created, funded and given the authority to fulfil this need. I would hesitate to use the word Agency to describe such an organisation, as this was a common description for the 19th Century US bureaucracy used to corral native Indians onto reservations.

Although this goes against the Liberal policy of localisation, in this case widespread public hostility to such provision means that a degree of central guidance may be needed to elicit a list of potential sites and their sympathetic siting.

By taking affirmative steps today, we can head-off long-term hostility, and provide a suitable network of sites. This will defuse local issues with unannounced arrivals and remove a source of community friction.

The politics of travellers communities isn't a vote winner, but the Liberal party recognizer’s that a nationwide plan for permanent and transit sites is vital, and a tolerant approach to their location and management is what is required.
Fully agree with the sentiments contained within this policy discussion document. As ReadingLib rightly says, it may not be a vote winner, but there is nevertheless a necessary commitment required to work towards resolving situations when they arise, and there is the need for a provision of sites.

In a progressive society there is a need to respect the fact different people have different lifestyles. Travellers are a section of society with a Romany type lifestyle very different to others. I do believe we have to recognise Travellers and Romanies have the right to choose this lifestyle and as has already been stated there is a need for co-operation to provide suitable sites.

Regrettably however  in a number of cases members of the Traveller community seem to be beyond the law, flouting motoring, fly-tipping, littering and even animal welfare regulations. This has a detrimental effect on local communities, the environment and wildlife, as well as tainting the image of Travellers themselves. Therefore whilst accepting differing lifestyles and the provision of sites, there has to be acceptance that no section of society is beyond the law.

There are sections of the Traveller community that wish to establish horticultural co-operatives or sole trader ventures or new-age therapy/holistic communities. These can make valued contributions to society and is something that should be encouraged.

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