Friday, 23 September 2011

Gypsy and Traveller problems in Hyndburn - Dear Eric...

Dear Eric [Pickles]

22 Sept, 2011.... We all want to see people treated fairly. Sadly travellers passing through Hyndburn have treated the Borough with great disrespect and the sympathy that did exist has long evaporated away.

It’s about time travellers who cause damage and leave Council’s to clear up after them are forced to pay like the rest of society has to. Hyndburn has a very high number of traveller pitches and there is no excuse for illegal encampments.

Travellers hide behind a ‘cash poor –asset rich argument’ leaving Councils and businesses to face all the costs with no chance of recovery, and unable to do anything but a long delayed and costly eviction on behalf of beleaguered battle weary residents.

The law means it is the Council tax payer and businesses who has to forgo everything. Time, energy, resources.

I wrote to the minister Andrew Stunnell MP back in July asking for any costs involved in legal disputes or associated compensatory costs, should be charged and recovered from gypsy and traveller assets such as the enforced sale of caravans and motor homes. This is currently the law now if you live in a fixed or permanent residential accommodation. The legislation exists for everyone else, it just needs tweaking for travellers so it’s a level playing field. The ability to attach fines and charges to motor homes and take compensatory action under the Law of Property Act 1925 for non-payment.

I also raised this matter with you in the corridors of the House of Commons.

Hyndburn has frequent illegal encampments despite having one of the highest numbers of pitches in the region per head of population.

It seems there is no ‘reasonable’ sanction that can be imposed, only the long winded application for removal via the magistrates (unless the Police have legal base to intervene), leaving a site often in need of clear up with damage to property and nuisance to businesses and residents.

Allowing Council’s to recover bad debts by seizing assets is set in law often as a result of a S.215 notice or other works in default notices Council’s issue. In this case it should extend to their offending mobile home to recover a Councils costs and charges which will have the effect of rebalancing responsibilities. It will make travellers think twice about breaking the law knowing their caravans could be taken off them to pay the costs. Within that there should be afforded a similar level of legal and financial protection for businesses who suffer for example a break in and encampment.

This week I met with two residents and was joined by the new Council Leader Miles Parkinson to demonstrate for the first time in a long time, we are all working together on residents behalf. I have also suggested to the Council that we look at turning the law upside down with legally binding charges for encampment on Council (or public) property. Again the problem is asset rich, cash poor travellers who ergo evade sanction. I would appreciate your departments advice in respect of legal charging and recovery, something that would assist businesses plagues by break in s and encampment.

We are not helped by Government support for travellers in the New Homes Bonus and the Governments lifting of the cap on the number of pitches in Hyndburn in the Regional Spatial Strategy.

Neither are we helped by Planning whereby enforcement for permitted developments that have substantially deviated (a stable into a dubious residence) is a moving target of consecutive breaches and inflated costs and excruciating delay.

I look forward to your specific reply to the three points raised and as to whether you or your department have considered this matters carefully,

Graham Jones MP
Haslingden and Hyndburn