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We've no obvious place for a traveller transit site, say Poole bosses
BOSSES at Borough of Poole say a policy of management is the best they have while there is no designated site for travellers in the area.
Councils have been criticised by residents, a travellers’ group and the government for not doing enough on the issue, which has seen Poole suffer from a host of unauthorised camps on public land this summer – notably from a group which has stayed in the conurbation and left Broadstone Rec covered in mess.
Shaun Robson, head of environmental and consumer protection services, said: “We haven’t got any obvious natural places where travellers can stay readily for any length of time and not in some way or the other have an impact on the environment or the local community.
“For a number of years Poole has been looking to identify a suitable place for a transit site but at the moment we have been unable to take that forward.”
Tim Martin, head of legal and democratic services, added: “It’s hard to find a site that’s suitable for the travelling community. As soon as we find a potential site your pages (of the Echo) are full of residents saying they don’t want it in their back yard and that shows how hard it is to find somewhere.”
Residents in particular have expressed their frustrations that travellers are allowed on to public spaces and stay there while eviction is organised.
Mr Robson said: “They invariably end up on a piece of land that they’re not supposed to be on. One of the recent groups has been to five sites at least so far in Poole and Bournemouth.
“We end up with a scenario where we’re using the powers available to us to seek eviction but it’s only for a particular area.
“When we have an encampment we work closely with the police but we also try to work closely with the travellers themselves to try to make sure they have the minimum detriment on the community nearby and we have experiences where that has happened.
“It so happens that this particular group did cause detriment and that was the reason Poole has used the legal processes available to it to seek eviction and that’s what we achieved.”
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There have been calls for a borough-wide injunction, stopping travellers from camping anywhere in Poole.
But Mr Martin said that was a tough thing to do.
“They are a group that do have the protection of the law and I think the courts would be very reluctant to grant an order to say they are not welcome in Poole,” he added.
Mr Robson said: “Once a group have entered it becomes an issue of management because they are on the land and have rights of access and egress and we cannot barricade them.
“We have tried in the past to put security on a site to stop the camp growing but it didn’t work because anyone wanting to get in went in behind another vehicle and a security guard cannot prevent that.”
He was clear to point out that most camps are ‘unauthorised’ rather than illegal and only become illegal if a court order is ignored. At that point, bailiffs would be called in, but that rarely happens.
Mr Martin said that camps had been dealt with over the years without provoking major community tensions.
Mr Robson said it was a balancing act between securing sites and keeping them open for legitimate use.
“At Baiter for example we couldn’t prevent normal access because it was a car park meant for caravans.
“Places like Whitecliff and Broadstone had security in place and that was breached by the travellers. What we have found over the years is you can spend quite a lot of money putting in more protection and security but sites will always have their weak points,” he said.
He added: “If the police are to use their directions powers they have to have somewhere to direct them to. Because Dorset does not have a transit site that cannot be done.”
Jeff Morley, regulatory services team manager, said: “We visit sites within hours and they are under no misunderstanding of the expected standard of behaviour and what would trigger legal action.”
Mr Robson added: “On one hand we recognise their right to do this but on the other hand there are not spaces for them to do it and therefore there is tension. The law applies just the same to all individuals. People will often say ‘why are you not prosecuting for breaking the lock on the gate?’.
“Like all law there needs to be witnesses and evidence and a person commits an offence, not a group, so it’s hard to prove. The same thing is true of littering.”
Poole says that the most recent statistics for this summer showed 11 camps in Poole, six of which required court action. The others either moved on of their own accord or their departure was negotiated.
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