AS DORSET and the rest of the UK prepares for a busy summer season, plans are also being discussed about how BCP Council are to accommodate the Gypsy, Traveller, Romany and Roma community.

We took a look into what current options are available to Gypsy, Traveller, Romany and Roma communities, and what legislation can stop them from setting up encampments.

Also, following the first acknowledged encampments of the year at Kings Park and Alum Chine, we spoke to BCP Council, Kushti Bok, a Dorset based charity dedicated to raising awareness of the Gypsy, Traveller, Romany and Roma communities, and the Dorset Race Equality Council about what the council’s traveller policy is and what is being discussed ahead of this summer.

How can councils facilitate Gypsy, Traveller, Romany and Roma communities?

There are a number of ways in which local authorities can accommodate members of the Traveller community.

The most common is providing authorised sites which can be used for short stays, known as transit sites.

The sites are permanent but are used short term and have basic amenities and services, which include water supply, shared toilets, washing facilities and waste disposal.

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Another option is referred to as Negotiated Stopping, which involves council officers making an agreement with Gypsies and Travellers on unauthorised encampments.

The agreement allows travellers to stay either on the land they are camped on or move to a bit of land more suitable for all parties.

A less popular option would be to provide ‘alternative stopping’ sites, which does not need planning permission for 28 days in any one year.  Again water, toilet and rubbish collection to be provided. 

What current legislative powers do local authorities and the police have?

Councils can use a number of enforcement laws when dealing with the Travelling community, including injunctions, possession orders and local byelaws.

In most cases, council will need to apply to a court to put these in place, with the sanction attached usually a fine or a prison sentence.

It is responsibility of the local authority, or someone they employ such as a security firm, that have to remove you, but the police might be asked to attend to observe.

Police have the power to remove camps, direct unauthorised campers and direct trespassers to an alternative site using sections 61- 62 of Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

BCP Council’s approach in Dorset

The council have said that they have seen a decrease in unauthorised encampments over the last year.

However, BCP Council have said that they do not plan to have any transit sites in the local authority area this year.

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A BCP Council spokesperson said: “BCP Council has an agreed policy response to the management of unauthorised encampments across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.

“A working group continues to meet and will consider any further recommendations in the light of upcoming changes to national legislation and will take into consideration the impact on residents and the wider community.

“Currently there are no plans in place to introduce dedicated transit sites and we will continue to work with key stakeholders, the police and traveller community in developing any future recommendations.

“Over the last year, across our area we have seen a drop in the number of unauthorised encampments, however we remain committed to addressing this issue and reducing the costs incurred for cleaning and management of sites when they do occur.’’

What the Traveller and Gypsy community would like to see

Kushti Bok, who represent the Gypsy, Traveller, Romany and Roma community in Dorset, say they have been working with BCP Council and Dorset Police to come up with suitable solutions for encampments this summer.

Chair of Kushti Bok Betty Smith-Billington said: “Currently the council’s policies are similar to last year, which worked for some but not for others.

“BCP Council are well aware that they need new sites, transit and permanent, and have asked the planning department to look into identifying potential sites.

“Hopefully this search will be stepped up, as Dorset Police cannot at present direct travellers to a non-existent transit site.

“I understand that they had looked into negotiated stopping, but we’re not sure it would work.

“I am hoping that they will revisit negotiated stopping as it has worked very well in other parts of the country and many local authorities have saved thousands of pounds by adopting this option.

With negotiated stopping, water, toilet and rubbish collection facilities are made available, and a contract is signed with a promise of a leaving date and for the site to be kept clean and tidy. A deposit may be asked for. 

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Therefore, no clean ups will be necessary, and no other group can use that particular site for 12 months. Local residents would also be consulted, resulting in less tensions. 

“I am hoping that BCP Council will be able to identify more land that can be made available for ‘alternative stopping’" Betty Smith-Billington said.

“There must be many landowners who may not be using some parts of their land at present, namely farmers, unused industrial sites and cleared sites awaiting development.

“Many landowners are afraid of prosecution from planning departments, are unaware of the 28 days grace.

“Poole Council was always well known for providing facilities to Traveller camps, let’s hope this will carry on, and will be the same policy for all of BCP area.”

To prevent potential conflicts between members of the Gypsy, Traveller, Romany and Roma community and locals, Mrs Smith-Billington has urged for people to familiarise themselves with history of these communities before confronting them.

She added: “It would be good if local councillors, and the local community, took the time to learn more of the Travelling people's culture and heritage.

“Yes, there are good and bad in all, but there are better than bad in the Travelling community, who often are persecuted and ridiculed for others that have gone before them.

“Last year in lockdown, Dorset Police directed a group of travellers to a place of safety in Poole Park.

“Whilst there, it was noticed that there was damage to the newly refurbished pond, the travellers were blamed, but it later transpired that a group of local teenagers had been dispersed by Dorset Police the night before the travellers arrived. 

“There were no problems with the original group, but sadly a different group of travellers arrived who did cause some problems, then all travellers in the area faced hate and racists comments on social media.

“Kushti Bok have good working relationships with both Dorset Police and council. We are pleased to say that we are now in talks with the new BCP council.”

Thoughts from an independent charity

Dorset Race Equality Council, based in Boscombe, is a registered charity who aim to inform and educate society regarding race and ethnic relations.

They believe that more should be done to remind residents of the statutory duties held by local authorities and that a more cohesive approach between authorities, residents and the Travelling community will lead to less discrimination.

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Dorset Race Equality Council Chief Officer Nathalie Sherring said: “We would like the Council to provide some spaces within the conurbation where travellers could stop for a few days before moving on and would be accepted.

“We would also like BCP Council to provide Portaloos and bins that should be collected straight after the departure of the travellers.

“We would like to see the council producing a communication campaign to remind locals that the council has got a statutory duty in accommodating the needs of people who travel and to explain what BCP Council is doing to meet this duty but also to remind locals that no discriminatory comment will be tolerated.

“We would like all partners to work more together to ensure that everybody can go about their own lives within the BCP area including travellers. There are far too many divisions in our society, and this will not stop if we do not work together.”