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STAFFORDSHIRE: Call for cross-county measures to tackle unauthorised camps

STAFFORDSHIRE: Call for cross-county measures to tackle unauthorised camps

Staffordshire PFCC Ben Adams, provided by PFCC\'s office

Community leaders are calling for cross-county measures to tackle unauthorised encampments.

Caravans have been parked up in a number of locations across Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent this year, including a council-run car park in Tape Street, Cheadle, Lidl in Tunstall and a Premier Inn car park in Stafford.

Police and local authorities have responded to the incidents when they have been reported. But on Thursday members of Staffordshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Panel called for clearer guidelines on how to deal with unauthorised camps.

Lichfield District councillor Richard Cox said: “I was in a meeting yesterday with Lichfield’s chief inspector and her deputy. Recently we have had problems with travellers.

“We’re working on a protocol on how we go about things and this might be a protocol that also could be expanded to parishes if they’ve got travellers on their land. I wonder if there’s a protocol you could be looking at as a guidance we can all feed in and work together, so the police have a protocol, the authorities have protocols and there is a strong link of working together.”

Staffordshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Ben Adams responded: “It’s particularly of interest to me because the Bill going through Government at the moment is bringing forward some new legislation around illegal trespass. Nationally there’s a discussion about what will that mean in terms of police power, should people trespass.

“We haven’t got this at the moment but I’m very keen we have a forum where all our authorities and community safety partnerships (CSPs) can come together to discuss stuff that’s of common interest across the force area, and they get to talk to the Chief Constable and the expert officer and share views. I’m about to communicate with CSPs about this because I think there are areas of interest we need to be discussing.

“One of them is a consistent and well-understood model for managing concerns around illegal trespass, particularly in light of the new legislation. I would like the CSPs and councils to be actively involved in designing the relationship with the police going forward on that.

“Watch this space on that because that is something we need to be discussing in the next few months before next summer comes round.

“It slightly frustrates me that there’s confusion over this and it takes time and discussion – will we, won’t we, should we, can’t we. Let’s just get some clarity.

“In fact, if all our districts can approach this in the same way – and the city because there has been issues in Stoke this year – then the travelling community will know here is the rule of engagement in Staffordshire.”

“My concern is that the service is approaching this in a consistent way and the councils we work with around it all understand our obligations and work within the law.”

Mr Adams also raised the issue of current legal site provision for members of the gypsy and travelling communities across Staffordshire.

A number of local authorities have a shortfall of designated sites for gypsy and travelling communities and are now having find suitable locations to ensure their needs are met.

Mr Adams said: “Let’s bear in mind we could do with a few more sites for travellers, so you might hear back from me that we need to get on with that. It’s not my job, but I will be pointing the finger because there’s a legitimate commitment to providing safe places for people to stop.

“That’s different from finding yourself on someone’s private land and acting illegally.”

Fellow panel members representing other Staffordshire districts and boroughs were also in support of cross-county measures.

Councillor Ann Edgeller said Stafford Borough Council members had been asked by a cabinet member to help look for more sites in the area suitable for gypsy and traveller pitches.

County councillor Philip Hudson from East Staffordshire said: “I’ve got an issue I’m dealing with at Uttoxeter at the moment. What we need is a clear policy and powers of each of the partners involved.

“The police went out first of all and said ‘it might be on the highway, it might be a cul de sac but it’s nothing to do with us, contact your councillor. So ESBC (East Staffordshire Borough Council) were contacted and it’s like ‘we don’t know what to do’ and in the end it came to the proactive county councillor to deal with it.

“I’m dealing with it and so are our officers who will get a solution. But we need a diagram of what if something comes in, who deals with it? If it’s on the highway, is it the police or the county council?”

Tamworth Borough Council member Stephen Doyle said: “Tamworth would welcome a group discussion across Staffordshire on how we approach dealing with travellers or gypsies. We’ve already instigated some measures to look at how we can interact better with people coming into the area.

“These are human beings, just like us. They may have a slightly different outlook on how they choose to live their life because they choose to travel but I welcome the idea of more sites to accommodate them and am fully supportive of any measures that improve the relationships between ourselves, travellers and gypsies.”

Words: Kerry Ashdown, Local Democracy Reporter

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