Over the last three or four months there has been an increase in the number of illegal encampments being set up in Northampton.
A significant number of my constituents have written to me about the presence of these illegal encampments in several public parks around the town such as The Racecourse and Kingsthorpe Recreation Ground. In most instances the Council and Police have been able to use powers available to them to remove these encampments within a few days, but my constituents have reported large amounts of rubbish being left behind on these sites once the travellers have moved on.
When an encampment has arrived I usually hear from residents very quickly and I then send an email immediately to the Council. The Council are usually already aware and have begun their procedures. There have been several episodes across town in the last few months and subsequent issues have also had to be raised with Northampton Borough Council (NBC) such as the need for a clean-up afterwards.
I have found that NBC and the police have been efficient in removing these encampments and have acted as expeditiously as the process allows – indeed, improved laws introduced by the Government have allowed local authorities to act to remove this type of intrusion much more quickly than previously was the case.
I have written to the acting Chief Executive of the Borough Council suggesting that consideration be given to the Council making an application to the Court for a civil injunction so that they can act in a preventative fashion rather than in a reactive way. I am told by the police that similar injunctions have apparently worked in other parts of the country; however there are obviously cost implications and not every application may be granted by the court.
There is already a Council-owned site in Ecton Lane for long-staying families. Spending taxpayer money to provide more land, as seems from local media reports to be proposed by the Labour Party in Northampton, would in the Council’s view encourage more travellers to come to Northampton and thus result in more disruption for the town’s residents. I agree with the Council about that.
I have recently written to both the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police Simon Edens and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire Stephen Mold to ask them: a) what is being done by the Police with regard to the travellers situation and b) to ask them to conduct a full review into the powers that they have available to deal with the situation, in order to ensure that everything that can be done is being done.
The Police and Crime Commissioner has responded saying that amongst other things Northamptonshire Police will undertake a review of the use of policing powers in relation to illegal encampments. He has also told me that he has asked Northamptonshire Police to sight and report to him the findings in relation to the review, including powers of using Section 61 under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (powers to remove trespassers on land). The Police and Crime Commissioner will also be attending meetings with NBC and Northamptonshire Police and other local authorities to discuss longer term solutions specific to our county.
The Chief Constable also replied to me re-enforcing the PCC’s words and sentiments about working with other local authorities and saying that this issue needs all partners to be fully committed to a solution. The Chief Constable also said that whilst it is a belief amongst the public that the Police can use Section 61 notices fairly easily, there are actually very specific conditions that need to be met for the Police to be able to use these powers.
I look forward to hearing about the result of Northamptonshire Police’s review and I am engaging with the police and council about this issue; I will continue to be proactive in this matter on behalf of my constituents.