- Meeting of SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES OVERVIEW & SCRUTINY COMMITTEE, Thursday, 13 September 2018 10.00 a.m. (Item 104.)
The Committee is asked to consider information in relation to the Council’s management and response to unauthorised encampments in Central Bedfordshire.
The Chairman invited two public speakers, Mrs P Mitchell and Mr M Gibson to address the Committee, who raised the following points in summary:-
· Examples of inappropriate development on greenbelt land and a subsequent lack of enforcement. The speaker requested that the Committee receive details of instances of non enforcement on greenbelt land.
· A specific example of hardstanding created on a Traveller encampment however works continued with no enforcement action taken.
· The Committee ought to request a table of unauthorised encampments within Central Bedfordshire, specifically referencing sites at Kingswood, Tilsworth.
· The lack of improvement in the Council’s approach to planning enforcement despite a report in 2015.
· The importance of addressing challenges at a particular site in Billington.
· The timeline for the recruitment of additional enforcement officers.
· Whether the Committee would support the implementation of a cross directional steering group comprising officers of the Council, community experts and appropriate partners and that any such group should report to the Executive.
The Executive Member for Community Services delivered a report which outlined the differences between unauthorised Traveller encampments and breaches of planning enforcement regulations. Members were advised of the legal obligations faced by the local authority and the need to support all residents, including those from the Gypsy and Traveller community. Council leaders met regularly with local MP’s in order to discuss changes in legislation to try and address the problems faced by unauthorised encampments and the Executive had supported the formation of a coordinated group to work with Gypsy and Traveller community, recognising the need for joined up approach.
The Chairman advised the Committee that a written statement had been received referencing Appendix B of the report and requesting that a similar court injunction as applied in Marston Moretaine be obtained in order to address instances of unauthorised encampments in Dunstable and Houghton Regis. In response the Executive Member provided details of the differences in approach to challenges faced in Marston Moretaine and the agreed methodology in relation to the court injunction, highlighting that there was still a need to undertake more work within Dunstable and Houghton Regis before a similar injunction could be applied for.
In light of the report Members discussed the following in summary:-
· The differences between unauthorised encampments and breaches to planning conditions on established sites.
· The enforcement process did not favour rapid action and often involved the planning inspector or the courts, with members of the public often reticent to provide the courts with the required evidence in order to progress a case.
· The need to consider temporary stopping sites within the region and the disparity of facilities across the country in relation to Gypsy and Traveller provision.
· The changes in the Government definition of the ethnicity of Gypsies and Travellers and the associated number of pitches local Councils were required to make provision for as a result.
· That there were no specific sites identified within the Local Plan and that having demonstrated the ability to meet the 5-year land supply there were no plans to allocate sites at this stage. Instead sites would arise as a result of windfall development. In response to a Member query the Executive Member confirmed that a specific application refused for six pitches would not be treated as a windfall site and that any development on that specific land would continue to be refused with enforcement action taken as appropriate.
· Concerns that the process involved in reporting instances of unauthorised encampments was laborious and did not meet the needs of local residents.
· The need to appropriately assess areas experiencing instances of unauthorised development, the associated impact on crime and the need to prioritise as necessary.
· That the Customer Services team would be working closely with the directorate in order to alleviate pressures on front line staff in relation to call volumes received by the Council regarding unauthorised encampments.
· That local MP’s were lobbying Government in order to make trespass a criminal rather than civil offence, thus increasing the powers of the police.
· The need to carefully consider all equalities implications in relation to a protected ethnic group.
1. That the Committee support the directorate’s continued efforts to address unauthorised encampments within Central Bedfordshire.
2. That the Executive continue to work closely with local MP’s in order to bring about changes in Government legislation and increase the powers of the local authority and the police.
3. That the Committee include an item in its future work programme encompassing a wider report on unauthorised development and planning enforcement.