Travellers may get two weeks to move before facing court

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Moves to tackle illegal traveller camps in England’s biggest county are set to come under the spotlight this week as plans are debated which could see travellers given time to move on before being taken to court.

North Yorkshire attracts illegal camps for a number of reasons. Councillors will be told the A1 and A19 are key routes for travellers heading to fairs and other events, but there are only a limited number of permanent and transit sites and emergency pitches and temporary sites have not been provided.

Bosses at North Yorkshire County Council have developed a new blueprint which it hopes will help to remove illegal camps in unacceptable locations such as village greens, sites of special scientific interest and parks as quickly as possible.

However, in other cases the county council will require the camps “to comply with a code of conduct and will generally take legal action to evict after 14 days” in a move that could save the council money on costly legal fees.

Councillors will be told the policy will allow the authority to respond in a consistent way “which balances the human rights of nearby settled communities and of the members of the unauthorised encampment”.

Richard Flinton, chief executive of the authority, outlines the policy in a report to the council’s executive, which meets tomorrow to discuss the issue.

He says: “Unauthorised encampments can cause concern to nearby settled communities, cost the council in terms of officer resource, legal and possible clear up costs and can have a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of members of unauthorised encampments.”

Mr Flinton adds: “Gipsies and travellers attending a workshop on unauthorised encampments at the North Yorkshire and York Gypsy, Roma, Traveller and Showmen Wider Forum on March 19 2013 were asked why unauthorised encampments occur.

“The lack of permanent sites and pitches was acknowledged as an issue but the absence of transit or short-stay sites was of greater concern as some attendees stated that their families want to lead a traditional travelling life.”

Figures show the council’s customer service centre dealt with 48 reports of illegal camps between October 2011 and September 2012.

Councillors will be told, however, that this figure does not represent the full number as some reports would be directly dealt with by area highways offices.

Illegal camps in the county are most likely to occur along the roadside but can also happen at sites including schools, car parks, public parks and green areas around offices and residential areas.

Officers hope that the new policy, if backed by members of the council’s executive tomorrow, will provide a more consistent approach to tackling the issue.

In serious cases, such as where there is an obstruction to a road or a site of environmental importance, legal action will be taken as quickly as possible. However the policy says, as most camps last for only a short time, waiting 14 days before starting action will avoid the cost of unnecessary legal action and acknowledge the difficulty faced by travellers pursuing their lifestyle in the county which has no emergency stopping sites.

The policy says when an illegal camp is not moved immediately those on the site must comply with a code of conduct which they will be made aware of which it is hoped will help to minimise tension with nearby communities or result in damage to the land.

The code of conduct would encourage travellers to keep any animals under control, to not dump rubbish, to keep the land clean and tidy, keep noise levels down and not to block routes and to comply with other issues.

Officers say illegal camps also present an opportunity to engage with travellers and to identify any welfare needs in a move that could prevent the need for more costly intervention at a late date.