MP says laws to deal with illegal traveller encampments ‘is too slow’ after Weston incidents during summer

Two Somerset MPs have called on the Government to provide councils with more powers to deal with illegal traveller encampments.

Weston MP John Penrose and Wells MP James Heappey both spoke during a debate on the issue in Parliament this week.

It follows a number of incidents during the summer where North Somerset Council used court orders to move travellers from Weston’s parks.

Mr Penrose said: “Although the current powers are extensive in theory, they do not work in practice.

“They are too slow, and there are too many loopholes.

“The miscreant element of the traveller community that is the cause of these problems understands the loopholes all too well, and we end up playing cat and mouse across county boundaries and authority boundaries.

“We absolutely need to reword the law, so that it works fast and effectively for the settled community as well as for the traveller community.”

Hundreds of people attended a protest in Baytree Rec earlier in the summer, as it was believed travellers caused extensive damage to football pitches used by junior teams.

The town’s Beach Lawns, Ashcombe Park, Clarence Park and Hutton Moor playing fields were occupied by traveller groups this summer.

Mr Penrose added: “It is extremely difficult to defuse innate concern among the settled community and potential hostility towards the travellers if we are all suffering, and I think that all of us will have encountered periodic and repeated incursions with temporary and illegal settlements of one kind or another.”

Mr Heappey said Somerset County Council spent £25,000 in the past three years to move travellers from public highways.

Mr Heappey said: “In the nearby village of Berrow, there was a traveller encampment on the village green.

“Given the mess that the green was left in afterwards, Berrow chose as a village to spend quite a large proportion of its annual precept on building a bund all the way around the green.

“I question whether money that is hard earned by parish councils should be spent on preventing illegal activity rather than on more positive improvements for the community altogether.

“The argument is that illegal encampments are an issue only if there is inadequate provision of authorised sites, but there are 64 authorised pitches in Somerset.

“In Bath and North East Somerset and in North Somerset, the two adjoining local authorities, there are a further 50, so there are 114 pitches available in the county of Somerset. How many can the taxpayer be expected to provide?”

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