Monday, 19 September 2011

Gypsy and Travellers: Is Moss Lane the next battleground?

The Labour Council have taken a tough line on Gypsy and Traveller encampments despite only being in power since May. Swift evictions have occurred on Arden Hall and Huncoat playing fields already.

It may seem harsh but years of being fair have resulted in unreasonable and unruly behaviour, an increase in petty criminal acts and illegal sites left looking like rubbish tips.

A new Gypsy and Traveller policy is being drawn up I understand with regards to the problems in the Moss Lane area. Swift legal enforcement has begun already alongside a review of planning rules to block green belt abuse.

We all want to see people treated fairly. Sadly travellers passing through Hyndburn have treated the Borough with great disrespect any sympathy has been completely lost.

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 us. 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 unable to do anything but a long delayed and costly eviction.

I wrote to the minister Andrew Stunnell MP back in July asking for any costs to be charged and recovered from gypsy and traveller assets such as the enforced sale of caravans and motorhomes and last week I spoke personally with Secretary of State Eric Pickles to make this point clear. The legislation exists for everyone else, it just needs tweaking for travellers so it’s a level playing field.

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 leaving often a site in need of clear up with damage to property and nuisance to neighbours.

Is there an opportunity that the mobile homes can be classed as homes for the purposes for levying fee’s for encampment, costs for site clearance and remuneration for remedial works caused due the encampment against that home. The purpose of which would be to allow local authorities to recover costs, legal and otherwise from enforced sale on the basis of recovery as laid now in statute.

Allowing Council’s to recover bad debts by seizing assets is set in law, 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.

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 property.

The previous Council did not do enough to protect Oswaldtwistle and we are determined that we will.

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.