Norfolk Councillor attacks Pickles over ‘appalling’ traveller guidelines

Travellers on the Beaconsfield recreation ground close to the seafront in Great Yarmouth.

Travellers on the Beaconsfield recreation ground close to the seafront in Great Yarmouth. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013

Norfolk and Suffolk's council machine grinds into action very quickly in tackling illegal traveller encampments leaders said last night as community secretary Eric Pickles' urged authorities to act faster.

Mr Pickles issued new guidelines to tackle illegal traveller sites after a series of unlawful encampments in this region have hit the headlines.

Great Yarmouth council said it had taken 'swift action' to deal with a group of travellers who moved onto a recreation ground in the town last Sunday.

But former North Norfolk councillor Candy Sheridan, who now works full time helping traveller families to address land shortages, said Mr Pickles comments were 'appalling' and he had let councils - who had not identified land which travellers would be able to get planning permission for - off the hook.

She said the announcement 'smacked of electioneering' with travellers the easiest and most vulnerable target. She said that there were planning applications which were not being determined because nobody wanted to decide around an election.

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Keren Wright from the Norfolk and Suffolk Gypsy Roma Traveller Service said Norfolk and Suffolk had bid for funding and been successful in getting new pitches for travellers.

She they had secured funding towards the refurbishment of a site in West Meadows in Ipswich and new pitches in Kessingland and Mile Cross in Norwich.

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'Norfolk and Suffolk have been successful and delivered new pitches. We are proactive and we are moving forward. But we still need more pitches, it is an ongoing thing,' she added.

Kate Watts, the environmental health manager at Great Yarmouth Borough Council, said: 'While the reminder will be helpful for some authorities, Great Yarmouth Borough Council is already fully aware of its legal powers to deal promptly with illegal traveller sites and is leading the way in their effective use.

'The borough council took swift action, with support from Norfolk County Council and Norfolk Constabulary, this week to remove travellers from Beaconsfield Recreation Ground, an important public amenity which is owned by the borough council.

'The council started the legal process on Monday, only hours after the travellers arrived, and they were gone by Wednesday afternoon after indicating they did not wish to contest a court summons, which the council had obtained in a bid to seek legal backing to remove the travellers from the site that same day.'

St Edmundsbury council was forced into court proceedings after a travelling community has moved around car parks and open spaces in the area.

Anne Gower, St Edmundsbury council cabinet member for housing and homelessness said: 'I think we are very well aware of those laws and processes and the machine does grind into action very quickly.'

'It is such an emotive issue. I can see that people feel it is one law for them and one law for the travellers. I think Mr Pickles has done the right thing in spelling it out and explaining there are laws.'

The powers that can be used by councils include temporary stop notices to stop and remove unauthorised caravans, pre-emptive injunctions that protect vulnerable land and possession orders to remove trespassers from land.

The DCLG said the move is aimed at preventing another incident like Dale Farm, where a long-running legal battle was fought before bailiffs moved in to evict travellers from the site in Essex.

At the peak of the operation, 308 officers were involved, including those brought in from Norfolk and Cambridgeshire under mutual aid arrangements.

The clearance, which resulted in violent clashes, followed a decade-long row over unauthorised plots on the six-acre site.

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