Seizing and destroying traveller caravans under potential new law may give Central Bedfordshire a homelessness problem, councillor warns

'There's a strong move to cancel the legislation because it's fairly draconian'

By Euan Duncan
Friday, 21st January 2022, 4:11 pm
Updated Friday, 21st January 2022, 4:25 pm

Seizing and destroying gipsy and traveller caravans may present local authorities, including Central Bedfordshire Council, with homelessness problems under potential new legislation, a meeting heard.

There was no mention of the Police and Crime Bill in a report by a CBC gipsy and traveller task and finish group, the council's sustainable communities overview and scrutiny committee was told yesterday (January 20).

The group was set up to support the delivery of future service improvements as an evidence-based inquiry into community relations, social cohesion, CBC's support of local residents, and better outcomes for the gipsy and traveller community.

Illegal traveller encampment in Bedfordshire (ARCHIVE IMAGE)

Conservative Dunstable Icknield councillor David McVicar said: "The legislation is waiting to be enacted. Part four covers illegal encampments, illegal incursions and roadside parking.

"There's a strong move to cancel it because it's fairly draconian, if I dare use that word.

"But it's what many people in this authority and others have been asking for. It will include a great deal of work enforcing those recommendations.

"By seizing and destroying caravans we may be giving ourselves homelessness problems.

"We're unaware about the responsibility between central government and the police to enforce these recommendations and whether that would fall on us as a local authority."

Initial research seemed to centre on three key areas, according to councillor McVicar.

These were:

improving social and community cohesion between the settled and gipsy and traveller community;

increased communication with the various communities;

and understanding how we can influence change at a national level regarding planning legislation.

He described site visits as "illuminating in many respects", adding: "If we start talking to the settled gipsy and traveller community we might improve the communication lines between us.

"The victimisation feeling came out quite strongly from the community.

"South West Bedfordshire Conservative MP Andrew Selous was very helpful and pushed forward a lot of the recommendations we had to him to Parliament."

CBC's head of community safety Jeanette Keyte said: "Currently there's an unauthorised encampment officer, two compliance officers who deal with breaches of planning permissions on private sites, a duty manager and a team officer. The proposal is to change the structure and we'll add capacity."

While two officers is considered "insufficient to cover more than 50 privately owned sites across Central Bedfordshire, their work would be prioritised to particular sites", said a report to the committee.

"This has been budgeted for, but can't cover two more liaison roles, as recommended by the group."

Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versallion said: "I think it merits four officers. It's about integration which should be the focus of the new officers."

Independent Linslade councillor Victoria Harvey said: "I really support the principal of liaison and cohesion. But we have residential communities suffering from a level of crime."

Conservative Dunstable Watling councillor Nigel Young, who chairs the committee, intervened, saying: "I would be very worried if you associate this conversation with levels of crime. That's two completely different conversations."

Councillor Harvey switched tack, explaining: "Anything that can be done to help community cohesion particularly within the villages of Billington and Little Billington would be a marvellous step forward."

Conservative Eaton Bray councillor Philip Spicer said: " I would like us to go further and accept the four officers, and use new homes bonus (for funding). We need to bring communities together.

"Both sides of the community feel threatened because neither talks to each other properly. We need to fix that communication block, which includes schooling, health and all the other services."

The restructuring is due before the executive in April.