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TRAVELLERS EVICTED AS HART CONSULTS ON ALLOWING PERMANENT ACCESS

ARE GREATER RIGHTS FOR TRAVELLERS IN THE PIPELINE?

LATEST EVICTION FROM FLEET POLICE STATION

After reports of yet another illegal traveller camp setting up base in Fleet (ironically in a former Fleet police station), a trespass notice has now been served and the community moved on last night. This is just one in a number of recent break-ins, which have seen property damaged and huge amounts of waste left behind, leaving councils and private land owners to foot the bill. The property (much to the dismay of local residents), has long since ceased its duties as a local police station and is now in the hands of Churchill Developers as it awaits its transformation into yet more retirement flats.

Councillor Forster of Hart District Council confirmed the eviction today, stating:

“I’ve just been informed by the Head of Community Services at Hart that thanks to speedy action by the landowners, following residents notification and my raising the matter, the travellers have just been evicted from the illegal encampment at the old Fleet Police Station.

Thank you to the team at Churchill and to Hart officers for the prompt action.
The Churchill contract manager has just confirmed security at the site will be increased today, with dog patrol and staff, and concrete blocks being installed to prevent vehicles entering.”

Below: Travellers enter the former Fleet police station in Crookham Road.

But with a growing amount of these instances in the Hart area, just why is it so hard to prevent these camps and why are police seemingly powerless to do anything about it? It’s a question that is being asked more and more – is Fleet becoming a soft touch?

The problem lies with the fact that for a landowner to evict those trespassing on their land they have to endure the long, convoluted process of going through official channels and applying for a court trespass notice every single time. Of course this has the knock-on effect of taking up valuable court time and costing money to process, so shouldn’t eviction from land be an easier process? especially when someone has broken into it illegally? Well, it could be…but Hart District Council doesn’t seem to think it’s worth it.

Below: The latest eviction notice is pinned to the gates of the Crookham Road site.

HART REJECTS PROPOSAL TO PROTECT LOCAL TOWNS

Basingstoke and Deane Council have found themselves in a similar situation, with a growing number of illegal traveller camps that have to be dealt with, slowly, on a one-by-one basis. Their answer to this was to apply for greater protection measures to secure the town and after applying for such, have now been granted an ‘unauthorised traveller encampment injunction’.

The scheme is designed to hand power back to the owners of the land as well as the police and local councils, meaning action can be taken that can prevent both illegal sites and fly tipping…something that is also becoming more prevalent in Fleet.

Below: A section from the press release about the new powers granted to Basingstoke and Deane Council.

The borough council’s Cabinet Member for Communities and Community Safety Cllr Simon Bound said: “Unauthorised encampments in Basingstoke and Deane continue to adversely impact on our communities and this has been so clearly evidenced just recently in Winklebury and Brighton Hill where we know residents have become frustrated by the limited action we could take as landowners. 

“This action has been taken given the serious problems these encampments regularly cause including noise, nuisance, intimidation and fly-tipped waste left on land and human excrement. Finding a long-term solution to deal with repeated unauthorised encampments has been a top priority for us and we have been working on it for over half a year now, but have been unable to talk about the legal action we were planning. 

“This interim injunction is about upholding the law, responding and listening to the concerns of residents and businesses and protecting the borough’s green open spaces and business areas. It is not about persecuting any particular group of people or their way of life.”

Here is a link to the full press release if you’d like to read it in greater detail.

So why can we not apply a similar common sense approach to protect our local towns too?

With public concern increasing, a similar proposal was put to Hart District Council by Councillor Steve Forster but it was rejected on the basis that we had fewer illegal camps, and that it was not worth spending the money to secure an injunction. But what of the cost of constantly clearing up the waste and damage? The cost to the courts and officials of having to take legal action every single time this happens?…and what about the cost in personal terms of local residents who are faced with threatening behaviour, no-go areas and piles of mess and even human waste to clear up?

Below: Some of the waste and bonfire remains left behind at Elvetham Heath recently from a previous traveller camp, after they drove straight through hedges to force their way onto the land, bypassing previously added security bollards.

Clean Up After Travellers Move On from Elvetham Heath - Fleet Hampshire News - For Fleet's Sake
Clean Up After Travellers Move On from Elvetham Heath - Fleet Hampshire News - For Fleet's Sake

Below: After repeated break-ins at the Elvetham Heath site, the local private landowner takes drastic action by digging a trench to prevent further access.

Clean Up After Travellers Move On from Elvetham Heath - Fleet Hampshire News - For Fleet's Sake

HART CONSULTS ON NEW TRAVELLER SITES

So Hart District Council refuse to look further into a scheme which would allow this problem to be sorted quickly and easily. If, according to them, the problem isn’t yet serious or frequent enough to make it worthwhile, do we just sit back and wait for it to get worse? The problem is that the word seems to be getting out. Could the increase in these illegal camps be put down to the fact that Fleet is being seen as easy pickings? Those who want to set up camp just do so, safe in the knowledge that our police and councils are powerless to act which gives them a guaranteed amount of time to stay on the site until a legal notice of trespass is granted and served.

Hart District Council have now set up a consultation on allowing travellers more rights, by securing a local site (or sites), for them to use as they wish. It seems that although we don’t have enough instances of traveller camps or funds to seek an authorised injunction of our own, we have enough to offer them a warmer welcome with their own permanent sites in future.

The purpose of the Traveller Development Plan Document “is to identify sufficient sites to meet the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers and Travelling Showpeople.”

Below: Hart District Council appeal for appropriate sites to use for traveller camps.

So is this the answer to the problem? If land is freely available for use and assuming it is for a short stay period only, then it will prevent the damage where properties are being broken into… but what about the waste left behind? or will there will be free waste services provided too? It’s a decision that has left many asking why their taxes could be used for securing free services for those that wish it, while local residents continue to pay through the nose with ever increasing bills…and ever decreasing services.

So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the approach taken by Hart District Council? Will it improve things, or make it worse? Now’s your chance to have your say…For Fleet’s Sake!

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