Dereham mayor concerned over councils’ unauthorised encampment policy

Dereham Mayor Tim Birt. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Dereham Mayor Tim Birt. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

A town mayor is calling for an examination of policy over unauthorised traveller encampments after a group settled on the town's recreation area.

Dereham mayor Tim Birt has written to the county council, Breckland District Council and the police after all three were unable to help as the site counted a private land.

The incident happened on October 17 when a group of travellers stopped on Dereham's recreation ground.

The mayor, along with the town clerk, visited the site and discussed the situation amicably with the travellers who said they would be moving the next morning.

Mr Birt said: 'The incident that happened was not an issue itself but it highlighted the difficulties a council could face.

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'We went down and engaged really well with the travellers. They were very polite and said they would be leaving the next morning and would clear up any mess.

'As part of the process we were looking at what would be the reaction if we did have a problem.

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'We spoke to the county council and the district council and while they gave us advice they said there was nothing they could do as it was private land.

'Dereham recreation ground is hardly private land but that is how it is treated.'

Mr Birt said the only option would be to hire bailiffs to move on travellers but this would cost around £2,000.

He said: 'We are a big town council and we have a budget for legal costs but smaller councils don't.

'For some councils that would be their entire budget for a whole year and that just is not right.'

Mr Birt said that while Breckland councillors had offered to help he wanted the policy to be looked at to prevent future problems.

A spokesman for Breckland District council said: 'District councils, the county council, and the police in Norfolk have all signed up to a shared protocol which ensures we take a joined up and consistent approach to addressing unauthorised traveller encampments.

'The policy has recently been revised in collaboration with various partners, including representatives from traveller communities and town and parish councils.

'The bodies signed up to the policy offer free advice and guidance about the various options available to landowners whose land is occupied by travellers, including liaising with the traveller community and taking action under trespass laws and other powers.

'However, by law, only the landowner can seek to reclaim their land.'

David Collinson, Norfolk County Council's assistant director for environment and public protection, said: 'We are able to offer advice to landowners on unauthorised encampments, and we can liaise with Travellers and advise on alternatives, as well as point them in the direction of Norfolk's transit sites.

'Should district and borough councils choose to take up our services we can offer a much greater range of support to them and owners of parish and other common land; this support can include legal advice. At the moment these additional services are provided by the district council.'

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