The number of traveller sites around Leighton Buzzard and problems arising from unauthorised encampments is clearly a very sensitive issue, but that does not mean we should shy away from it. Indeed, many of the concerns arise from an unwillingness to discuss the issue.
It is a common feature of any community to have both good and bad – it is not something that is unique to either the settled or the travelling communities. That said, as Andrew Selous MP said in Parliament in November last year, “… but I would not be honest if I did not point out the considerable police activity expended in relation to Traveller sites, a number of which are, in effect, ungoverned space where it is difficult to enforce the rule of law.”
The challenge we face is how to provide sufficient sites for the travelling community without adversely affecting the settled community.
I believe that Central Bedfordshire Council has made ample provision across the southern half of Central Bedfordshire, and in particular around Leighton Buzzard. We must now ensure that any further provision is provided elsewhere.
As Andrew Selous pointed out during his speech to Parliament, “… [proposed legislation would] end the current situation in which local authorities that have some Traveller sites are then told by the Planning Inspectorate to build more and more sites, with a multiplier effect. My authority already has 40 Traveller sites, the vast majority of which are privately run—the authority has very little control over them – whereas other local authorities have no sites at all, which is fundamentally unfair.”
The issue that is of great concern to local residents is that of unauthorised encampments, and the apparent lack of powers the Police and local authorities have to take enforcement action. CBC has taken on additional planning enforcement officers, whose duties will include the regulation of travellers’ sites and ensuring they are not allowed to expand beyond what has been agreed.
In Ireland, unauthorised encampment is a criminal offence. Again, Andrew Selous commented on this “the Bill would make unauthorised encampments a criminal offence, as is the case in Ireland, a country that is also subject to the European convention on human rights“.
Read the full text of Andrew Selous’ speech here.