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County Area Earmarked For Official Gypsy and Traveller Camp

Published on: 26 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 27 Feb, 2021

It is hoped that provision of authorised temporary sites will decrease the incidence of illegal Traveller and Gypsy encampments.

An official Gypsy and Traveller transit site is to be created and funded in Surrey, County Hall has announced, to reduce the impact of unauthorised encampments on communities.

The camp, to be built by the county council during the financial year 2021-22, will hold up to 10 vehicles and be managed by Surrey’s Gypsy and Traveller liaison team. The leaders of 10 boroughs and districts as well as police are being consulted.

But David Munro, the Police and Crime Commissioner, a longtime supporter of such a project, said SCC-managed land in the Tandridge area has been earmarked although no planning application has been made.

PCC David Munro

The council is said to be putting up £127,000 towards the cost, with a yearly contribution of £7,500 for maintenance. The host borough will face no financial cost. Mr Munro said his office will be contributing £100,000.

The Commissioner said he is awaiting results of a government consultation after reports that the Home Office is planning to make unauthorised encampments a criminal offence.

The PCC added: “We are approaching the time of year when the county begins to see an increase in unauthorised encampments and we have already seen a few over recent weeks.

“The majority of Travellers are law-abiding but I’m afraid there is a minority that cause disruption and concern to local communities, increasing the strain on police and local authority resources.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

GBC leader Joss Bigmore said: “This project has long been supported at county and borough level because of the additional powers it gives police. The site will not solve all of the problems created by unauthorised encampments, but it will be a significant step forward.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for Travellers to find suitable places to live due to the lack of pitches. As a result, they are often forced to camp in overcrowded areas unsuitable for Travellers and local residents.

“We hope this new site will be of benefit to everybody in our community and prevent the disputes which sometimes occur. I thank my colleagues in the Surrey Leaders’ Group and Surrey Police for their support.”

Establishment of the official site enables police to manage unauthorised encampments through Section 62A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. That gives them authority to remove trespassers when an alternative site is available.

The process to move unauthorised encampments usually takes up to 10 working days, but the new transit site will reduce that. Offending Travellers can then also be barred from the borough for three months.

Hilda Brazil

Hilda Brazil, a “static” Gypsy in Effingham, called the scheme “a stopgap resolution until there was a proper solution”. But she welcomed the plan and said letting Travellers stay in one spot for a few weeks would allow them to seek Covid jabs, other medical help and perhaps a few weeks of education for children.

Ms Brazil believes the same families would come through each year and that could provide true statistics of the need for dwellings for Travellers.

She added that this would be a major improvement from numbers being taken after the Epsom Derby races when the authorities would say: “Oh, we have six Gypsies living in Epsom”, when there were hundreds in the area.

Brian Creese

Brian Creese, chair of Guildford Labour Party, said they support stands to provide safe, maintained spaces for travellers. “This will avoid friction with settled communities and reduce the need for police intervention,” he added. “Travellers can have a decent stay with toilets and waste facilities that will reduce the need to clear up afterwards.”

He said council officials should trawl for areas pleasant and accessible which do not intrude on established residential areas.

“Travellers have a right to a lifestyle different to ours, and their crime rate is similar to the average for all groups. We must remember, almost all Travellers pay rates in their town of origin and travel for only part of the year.

“Private developers have been able to find many sites to build luxury houses in the past five years, so it is not beyond the skill of council planners to identify a range of practical options for Travellers.”

Guildford Conservatives and the Guildford Greenbelt Group were invited to comment.

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